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, 15 August 2013

Don’t cover the syllabus, UNCOVER it...

In 2011, I was asked if I would write a guest post for Adam Simpson, a fellow English teacher here in Istanbul.  I chose to write about our schools transition into UbD (Understanding by Design).  Now two years on, and thankfully we have continued to implement the template and ideology in order to make our curricula stand out and provide better Understanding for our students.  In fact the new intake of staff this year are having a workshop, today, on the subject.  So, when I was surfing the net for a new image to use in my ppp, I came across this post.  Now, as I read it, I see how enthusiastic I was (and still am) for the UbD model for Curriculum design.

Don’t cover the syllabus, UNCOVER it… 

Adam Simpson writes: "I’m delighted to be host to this fantastic guest post by David Mearns, a fellow English teacher here in Istanbul. I first met David more than a decade ago and have always been amazed by the energy and enthusiasm he has for this job. Enjoy…"

In Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s marvellous educational text book, Understanding by Design, (Pearson, Merril Prentice Hall, 2006), educators are invited to reflect on their curricula and syllabus and decide whether what they are presenting to students is really being understood or not.  It is their firm belief that the reflections of educators unfortunately bears out the latter across the board.  They, thus, propose an approach to education that asks teachers to considerBackward Design as a springboard to improving teaching practices, curriculum content and assessment, so that students experience truerunderstanding of the subject matter, materials and take control of their own learning.
On being invited to blog for Adam’s highly active & informative ‘ELT-(cyber)space, A Year in the life of an ELT Teacher, andnow that I have been bitten by this interactive-caring-sharing ‘elearning-bug’, I considered what I would like to share with him and his readers.  On reflection of my initial ramblings, I realised they have been centered around ITC and Web 2.0 considerations, and I thought that it would be good to share some of my experiences as a seminar participant and subsequent practitioner of Understanding by Design (UbD), so that I can address some sort of balance in my own approach to ELT and education, and not give the impression that I have forfeited everything pedagogically in favour of technology in and out of the classroom.  Therefore, although I embrace technology with open arms, I will only briefly allude to that passion, as this post will outline a particular approach to organising the way I intend to present a video to the Hazırlık class (sts preparing for high school after eight years).
So, to begin with, a bit of background about how we teachers at Hisar Schools have begun the huge task of changing the design of our curricula and approaches to content therein.  We were introduced to UbD as core-team members towards the end of last year with the aim of developing the ‘understanding’ of what UbD means.  It was proposed that once we had understood the basic premise(s) and underlying principles, we could transfer that to our colleagues through workshops and seminars.  In all respects of PD it was a rather considerable learning curve for each member.  Although much of what the authors are relaying is entrenched in our own prior-knowledge of “what we need to consider” and “how to plan good educational unit” paradigms, it is the clarity and simplicity of knowledge transfer with which UbD excels at uncovering what we all need to do in order to transfer information, knowledge and pedagogues to our students, that makes it such an interesting and viable working framework.
After six months of the part-time course at Hisar with our PD-leader, Paul Morgan, where we were introduced to the basic theoretical principles as outlined in the original publication, it soon became very clear to all the participants that we were on to something very special for our truer understanding of what it is we need to teach our students in order for them to have a more fulfilling educational experience.  I will give examples of how I have transferred that pd to my my own working practices a little later.  But suffice it to say, the most telling understanding that struck me, and has stuck with me throughout all of my own UbD pd, and to which I owe the phraseology to a very dynamic dynamic and thought-provoking educator from the States, Margo Guilott, who works closely with the authors in spreading the UbD word through on-line education and out-in-the-field seminars, is: “It’s not about covering the syllabus, but uncovering the syllabus.”
When Margo uttered this wonderfully illuminating sentence to our core-group of teachers, via a video link in June, I was hooked on the concept and ideology of Understanding by Design.  Too many of us as teachers are only too willing to go with what has been written for them, or what they have written before as the ‘best’ way to approach planning and lessons.  Typical comments like, “Well, it kind of worked last year, so I’ll go with it.”,and “The students have to do it this way.  If they don’t get it, what am I supposed to do?” or “My students always answer the questions I give them.  They definitely get it.”, have always left me cold, and unfortunately I have been guilty of those responses as wellL.  UbD offers educators the opportunity to remove such thoughts by getting to what it is students actually need.  Teachers  are expected to look at what it is they are teaching and find out what are the best outcomes from the topics covered and assignments undertaken; not to mention the move towards formative assessment as an integral part of the syllabus.
Allow me to show by example of how my colleague, Brentson Ramsey,and I, have gone about revamping and uncovering our Hazirlik syllabus in order to give a much more complete and satisfying learning experience to our students.

UbD Template used by teachers to outline their objectives and learning outcomes, assessments and tasks to be implemented.
When presenting videos to students many teachers are under the false impression that the only outcome they can hope to achieve is that the students “have fun.”  Many others will only use video as a means of pacifying their students and for filling in time at the end of the lesson, day or semester.  I propose that this myth can be busted (thanks Adam Savage), so that video can be an integral-pedagogical part of our lessons and syllabus.
Our current trend for visual feasts via youtube and the like in the sober social past-time constructs has made our lives as teachers more interesting.  I write this as someone who has always appreciated visual stimuli as a student, but now I believe that the inclusion of more video for instruction (see my blog on Dave Dodgson’s that proposes the use of video for feedback in the writing process) opens up a world that you and your students will experience a much more satisfying and engaging learning experience.
The video that I want to show you in this blog involves a dog who retrieves a ball from a pool.  As you watch it I’d like you to think what both teachers and students could learn from it:


Now, clearly, this is a “fun” video.  Definitely one that will get your students laughing and talking,  as well as being engaged for sure.  This is your first teaching moment.  Here you have a cute dog, a ‘clever’ dog with an unusual ball retrieving style; here your students can relate this to their own lives.  Most of them, if not all, will have a dog or at least know a dog whose attempts by its owners to teach it to do tricks have succeeded or failed miserably. Enter: ICRD (Immediate Connect, Reaction & Discussion) [an attempt to add yet another acronym to the ESL-community J] It is so important that your video of choice engages your audience.  It cannot be that it only satisfies You because you think “They will like it, and have fun”.ENGAGING YOUR AUDIENCE NOT JUST “FOR FUN”

So, you engaged them through their prior knowledge and interest in their own child-love of the pet dog-trick world.  Is this now an end to the video?  Absolutely not!  Discussion is important for sure, but it is the further-follow up that will procure more learning and understanding of what it is videos are and should be used in the classroom.

As I wrote above, the follow up to  video is what will get the truer understanding of the visual media presented.  In our case we plan to use penzu.com as a means to get students to write journals in response to the videos they will watch every Friday afternoon.  In terms of the UbD template we see that the opening box asks for justification of: “students will be able to independently understand…” this is the strength of the overall outcome: identify, respond, write, display confidence & communicate their own message.  This strong-verb consideration is tantamount to success in the teachers’ overall planning of a unit.  This particular video lasts only one and a half minutes, yet it has some very deep and thoughtful considerations for students highlighted and asked by Brentson and Myself.
The next section, and my particular favourite, is the “UNDERSTANDINGS” section.  This is where we expect students to have thought way outside the box in order to fully benefit from such media (or any mode of teaching and learning for that matter).  Students will understand that thematic investigative enquiry and personal opinions can be shared.  By responding through writing and doing it as a homework assignment where the students have to rethink or review the video is surely meaningful for getting students to better understand?  The final consideration moves away from the surface of the video and what the students think and into what goes on behind the scenes and into the director’s (or in this case dog owner) frame of mind.  Of course we or the students can never know that for sure, but it is the investigative enquiry and subsequent belief in what they have seen that leads to a better understanding of the content.
The final section leads the teacher and students into the style of questioning we are all very accustomed to.  It follows on in order through the Blooms Taxonomy sense of enquiry by starting with surface and recall, and moving onto more thought-provoking questions.  Essentially, thinking outside the box.
  • · Why is there a mattress in the pool?
  • · What’s the motive of the owner?
  • · Is it possible for dogs to do this with conscious thought?
As you read through my proposal for video in the classroom, and a (very)brief explanation ofWiggins and McTighe’s excellent work, ask yourself whether you believe that by getting students to think past the obvious-surfacelevel is an impractical way to get them to understand anything you may want to present.
  • Why is the mattress in the pool?
Well, it shouldn’t be; Why would there be a mattress in the pool?; Who keeps a mattress in a pool? Has the mattress been there since day one of the trick?
  • What’s the motive of the owner?
She wants her dog to do a trick?; Has she set it all up to get herself (and dog) on tv?; Is she trying to win 50$ from a “funniest videos” tv show?
  • Is it possible for dogs to do this with conscious thought?
Of course not, dogs don’t have that, do they?; can the dog differentiate between a mattress or any other floating island in a pool?; would/could the dog find a way without the woman having put the mattress there in the first place?; How is the trick any good without a mattress lying in the family pool? etc etc…
In what I have shared with you in this blog I would hope it that it makes you believe in video-for-the-class as a viable option for really engaging pedagogy.  Of course, it needs to be thought out well and properly organised.  UbD allows for us as all to investigate and self-reflect on our preparation and practices for designing syllabus.  UbD is not prescriptive in What you teachbut asks you to consider How you plan, prepare and teach (PPT- another acronomic newbie?).  By asking Essential Questions to initiate thought, before in yourself, and later in your students through a Blooms-style approach of enquiry and investigation will ultimately lead to outcomes-of-Understanding(s) that undoubtedly give students the opportunity to own their learning truly autonomously and effectively.  Always remember the wonderful addendum made by my American colleague I referred to earlier,