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
ICT-ELT is a TOOL, NOT a SOLUTION.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

IMPLEMENTING SOME IDEAS for RAISING SELF-ESTEEM & BUILDING SELF-CONFIDENCE

While I was on holiday last week, I got the opportunity to see a fabulously ground-breaking fly-on-the-wall documentary about a Middle & High school in Yorkshire, England.  I was/am so inspired by the chosen stories, strategies, principal, deputies, counselors, teachers and ultimately, students.  Although the main theme shown, perhaps for tv purposes, is discipline and how the administration deals with students with all sorts of issues, that is not the most inspiring part for me.  What stood out for me was how a grade 11 boy, Musharraf, with a seriously debilitating stutter gets the help and support from his English teacher, that pushes him to get his GCSE in English, so he can then go on to college.


As I have intimated above, I am now inspired to use parts of this documentary to try and help four students I have identified in my own class with serious self-esteem and confidence issues.  The array of problems do not need to be laid out here, but lets leave it at: "The great fear of speaking in class, and doing presentations in front of peers."

Having got the support of the counseling department, I plan to take the four girls from their weekly 'life-skills' class, and work very closely using some confidence building strategies, vocal coaching and drama for English.  

Lets consider what 'FEAR' is for teenage students.  Not only are they being bombarded from all sides about what is best for them, from parents to teachers, older siblings, peers and teachers, but also they have their own adolescence, and all the physical/ mental changes that come with it. Therfore, how do I give these students something that can inspire and motivate them to change the 'error' of their ways.

I believe I have to start by getting them to understand what the definition of FEAR actually is.  Fear is an emotional reaction to a situation you are in, or thinking about. Your thoughts about the situation dictate how you feel, or the emotions you experience, and that determines the action you take (or don’t take).  In turn, the quality of the action determines the result you get, which feeds back into the thoughts you associate with the situation you have in the future.

For example, you're likely to feel good about a presentation if you're excited about the information you're going to share. Enthusiasm means you are likely to perform very well, and make a good impression. The next time a similar activity comes up, you're going to be very positive about it because of past results.

Of course the same is true of the things you fear. When you think about something going badly you don't feel great about the situation, and you are unlikely to perform to the best of your abilities.

So, the first awareness task will be to have the students make a list of the TEN things they are afraid of. They will then grade each one on a scale of least scary, 1, and the most scary, 10.  These fears and self-grades must be recorded in their notebooks, or smart phone/tablet, so they can look back at each one throughout the course as the fear is reduced, and the self-esteem and confidence are raised.

These steps will help you measure your fear levels:

1. Remember the last time you were in the situation that you feared.
2. Visualize in your mind what you saw at that time.
3. Imagine you can hear any sounds you heard or things you remember people saying,     or you said to yourself.
4. Ask yourself – “How much fear did I have in that situation on a scale of 0–10?”

If you are struggling to experience the fear in your imagination then you just need to put yourself into the situation that causes the fear and take the measurement.

For example, if for you it's talking to people you don't know, then try the following exercise:

1. Go somewhere where there are lots of people around.
2. Tell yourself you are going to force yourself to speak to someone in L2.
3. Think of something to say or a question to ask – even “Have you got the time?”
4. Start to walk confidently in their direction.
5. Speak to them.

The next stage will be to show the girls  the first segment from Educating Yorkshire, which when you watch below, will show you the entrenched-tragedy the 11th Grader, Musharraf, is living on a daily basis.  


VIDEO SEGMENT ONE

video


Once they watch the video I will ask them some surface and EQs about the boy, his illness, and how the students' own anxiety matches that of Musharraf.  I will also get them to think about what it must be like to have such an ailment.

e.g.

SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • What illness does Musharraf have?
  • How do you think it affects his life?
  • How does the school support him, do you think?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • What do you think he feels like, everytime he has to speak?
  • What other factors apart from physical disability could be the reason?
  • Why do you think it is getting worse in his final year at high school?
  • What measures could be taken to help him overcome his fear of speaking?

Now it is time for the second segment of the video.  The students are now aware of Musharrafs ailment, so they can think empathetically about his situation, and the words they will need to express their ideas in the next discussion, post video-clip.


VIDEO SEGMENT TWO

video


SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • What does Musharraf have to really study for?
  • What advice does his English teacher give him?
  • What is it that makes speaking such an important skill in school?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • Why does the teacher tell him to focus on the things he can do well, now?
  • What could Musharraf do to help himself before the speaking exam?
  • Why does Musharraf think he must continue to have "Big Dreams"?
  • Explain how this senior can achieve his big dreams.

The third segment has Musharraf meeting a representative from the university he hopes to enter.  He is obviously extremely worried about this, and it shows on the screen.

VIDEO SEGMENT THREE

video


SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • Who does Musharraf meet?
  • How does Musharraf feel intimidated, and under pressure?
  • How does he manage to get through the meeting?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • Why does Musharraf have to meet this man?
  • After the meeting, why do you think he feels so frustrated?
  • Why do his ideas make him feel even more frustrated?
  • What do you think he should do to help himself?
The next segment highlights the problems we all have as teachers with students not too dissimilar to Musharraf in our classes.

VIDEO SEGMENT FOUR

video


SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • What does the teacher suggest to Musharraf?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • Why does Musharraf appear to be getting worse?
  • What does the idiom, "At the end of the day, (we can't speak for him)", mean?
  • Explain why the teacher believes this.

This edited segment highlights the serious predicament the poor boy is in.  In fact, it also shows the plight of good teachers working above and beyond their call of duty, and how they work through it, never giving up, and looking for solutions to challenges.

VIDEO SEGMENT FIVE

video


SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • Who does Mr Burton call on to support him in dealing with Musharraf?
  • How long is Musharraf's speaking exam going to be?
  • How does the second member of staff react when she listens to Musharraf?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • Why does Mr Burton call upon this woman for help?
  • Why is a 10-mins. speaking exam necessary for students learning English?
  • Why does Musharraf want to quit?
  • What advice does the counsellor give him, and why?
The penultimate segment shows Musharraf benifitting from history, Hollywood, and the miracle of an English teacher.  Thanks to him having watched, The King's Speech, he got the idea to try the technique, used for the king, on Musharraf. IT IS AN INCREDIBLE OUTCOME you are about to see.

VIDEO SEGMENT SIX

video

SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • What is so important for the teacher, here?
  • How does Musharraf manage at the beginning?
  • What does Mr Burton give him to use while speaking?
  • What is the effect on the student's performance?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • Why does Mr Burton ask Musharraf which way he, himself, should sit?
  •  How does Musharraf's sound as he is speaking?
  • How do the teachers react when they hear him?
  • Why does Musharraf feel so excited?
  • Why is his reaction at the end of the clip so emotional for viewers?
The final clip concludes this amazing situation with Musharraf saying thanks to the whole school at the end of term.  It is an extremely emotional scene, with teachers, administrators and students bubbling in their seats.

VIDEO SEGMENT SEVEN

video


SURFACE KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS
  • What does Musharraf do in front of the whole school?
  • What do we learn about what might have made his stutter worse in p-7?
  • How do his school peers react when they hear him?
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS (INVESTIGATE AND DISCOVER)
  • Why does Musharraf's story touch at your heart-strings?
  • Why do you believe I chose this story to share with you?
  • What is the main theme of this incredible outcome for Musharraf?
  • How can you emulate what Musharraf has accomplished?
  • Even though his condition is chronic, how many parallels does it have to your own fears and worries around speaking?
  • Why must you always look for support from people who genuinely care about your well-being?
  • Why must you never bottle things up for fear of failure?
  • Do you have "BIG DREAMS" like Musharraf?

Now that the videos have been watched, and considered by the students, the next phase of the program will be initiated.
I came across a magnificent website at the weekend.  It has 365 cartoon characters, that all have different emotions, behavior and roles for any video game.  I loved the descriptions that much I decided to use them for my lesson on building self-esteem and self-confidence.  Here are a few for you browse over and consider my own message-connect explained under each picture. I have written in a metaphorical sense when trying to get young teens to believe in themselves through these images.


   
   The metaphorical consideration for me is that all teenagers have to climb a mountain      just to get through any difficult school year.  However, this further highlights how        
   students, with fears and low self-esteem, have to break free by using their    
   determination to succeed as brilliant young people in adult-life. 


 Many teenagers with problems of self-esteem, and a lack of confidence can project, on    others, their aggression and defence mechanisms, which only further their despair in        the long-run.  This would be a character I would say has two faces, both positive and        negative. My students have to consider, when reflecting on themselves, that this            metaphorical character should not be emulated, but remembered.


This character, for me, epitomizes the root cause of many problems in children who find themselves not believing in who they are.  Because everyone learns in different ways, and clearly at different stages throughout school, this "classic" approach to "teaching" is possibly the worst approach in education.  I will get the students to reflect on what happened to them with this type of teacher, and try to get them to see that it was not their fault they felt inferior or embarrassed about what they couldn't do, or didn't know; according to that/those teachers.


 I doubt that the majority students, with low self-esteem, have never experienced, at least once, in their school life, times when they have been the victim of a bully.  It could have been class peers, other school low-life, or worst of all, a teacher(s)!  I would   like to open this nasty can-of-worms, again, to show and explain how it has never  been their fault, as the victim; so they can face those inner-demons and grow with  confidence and self-assuredness. 

 
This character has the ability to overcome any obstacle that is set before her.  The         "puddle...(and) streets" are metaphors to describe her school life, adolescence and issues that seem overwhelming to her.  The ability to react in ways that support, help and save her, can be transferred to my four girls; in order for them to believe in their inner-strengths and get through the day.



 This boy epitomizes many teenage students, who simply don't like school.  He is not a      character that should be praised, but the focus for the girls is that if you live that way,    i.e. always angry, you can never be successful at school.  I would like to highlight that      students need to conform to the established systems, and although they may not like        them, they have to accept them (to some degree at least).  This character has a talent    for video games, so it would be a good idea for his teacher to channel his talents (and      aggression) into positive outcomes, by incorporating ICT into these types of students       differentiated learning model.  The girls can parallel this kid's action with their own, and  continue to work on things they are good at, but also not to reject the education systems and activities expected of them.


   I like this character on two leves: emotional; and academic.  This year is a very                important year for the students to get ready for high school.  Many of them come with      a false impression that they can wait for the teacher to tell them how it is; as opposed    to the reality, that they should investigate and learn for themselves.  Metaphorically        speaking, the word "research" can lead the students to investigate the reason why they    feel so afraid, insecure and embarrassed, so they can drive forward to be successful.

These examples are just a small window into the course I have prepared to try and help my students.  The important factor for me is the collaboration with the school counselor, since my role is to be their English teacher.  I am simply trying to get the four girls to see for themselves that speaking, both in English and Turkish, need not be a burden.  It should be a joyous adventure and journey, as they explore a different culture and language.  I believe that the barriers they have put up to protect themselves only act as a hindrence, not a safety mechanism.   

The last approach I would like to include in this course is drama.  The wide choice of facets that make up drama are a perfect way to remove inhibitions from teenage students.
First of all, it is the resonsibility of the girls to choose a persona for themselves, that they will metamorphasize into, when they come to the sessions.  This will be a short-term activity because I want to make them realize they can be a strong and confident person, by TRUSTING THEMSELVES.  So, to let them see that by becoming someone else, they can have that confident approach to presenting, talking and interacting in L2. 


A pretty impressive transition can be seen from Charlize Theron, below...



Although I don't intend to suggest to my four teens that metamorphasizing into a mad lesbian killer is the way to go :-)); however, it does show the effect an actor can have in a role as someone else.

Here are a few drama activities, done in the students' new personas, to make the students have fun and learn how to be more confident.


A form of Chinese Whispers:  Since there are only four students in my class, it means that each girl will have to prepare a structured scenario beforehand. But just like the traditional game, they will have to listen to each other carefully, in order to keep the sceanrio going.  The soft voice, and focused listening will hopefully allow each one to build their own language-transfer skills through quality pronunciation and syntax.  Once this has been achieved I intend to have them re-do the activity, but out loud.  This will take many attempts I am sure, but they will have fun while they are doing it.


THE WALL of SCREAM: Here students go over to different walls in the classroom, and stand facing the wall, about half-a-foot away.  They then start talking to the wall, first of all in a soft voice, and then building up to a crescendo.  The students will say the following:

"My name is _________, and I believe in me, myself & I!" 

Here the students really have a great laugh. It will have been the first time any of them have done such an exercise, and it will appear nonsensical to begin with.  But the aim is to get them to risk take by how loud they speak, under control, and to let go of their inhibitions.


VOICE PROJECTION: Since we have a large theater in our school, what better way to get students confident about hearing their own voice, than by having them stand in an empty theater auditorium projecting short paragraphs, monologues, poems and even song lyrics, of their choosing.  I believe this can allow the normally quiet students to really set themselves free. It will take some time to build this activity up to a worthwile conclusion, but with a focused effort of the objectives, I believe it can work.

Okay, I have given an insight to a new project I am developing for this year, and years to come.  I am so inspired to try and get four self-conscious, quiet, shy and inhibited students ready for high school.  I am fully aware that it is not my goal to have them become demonstrative, loud and brash students.  It is about getting them to realize they can become more vocal in and around class in L2, by searching inside, breaking down barriers for their own growth and development.  Wish me luck.




Sunday, 27 October 2013

Verb Wheels and Edmodo: A Winning Combination for Teaching Irregular Verbs

Yes, indeed, it is that time of year again for our students to begin learning those pesky English irregular verbs.  Each and every year, our students ask us if there is a magic formula for learning them, and as we know as ESL professionals, there isn't.  While trying to memorize them along with drilling in grammar books certainly can be effective to a point, it definitely doesn't get young teenage learners engaged in the process.  Therefore, last year my colleague and I came up with a different strategy that combines a classical hands-on approach with the support of technology, and it seems to have had to lead to a more positive learning environment in the classroom when it comes to teaching irregular verbs.

While walking through one of the several book fairs that our school holds each year, we stumbled upon these magnificent little verb wheels that have 92 of the most-commonly used irregular verbs in English, as pictured above.  As you turn the wheel to the verbs on the outside, several forms of each irregular verb appear in the small boxes in the middle, including the past simple (V2) and past participle (V3) forms.  We thought that this would provide the students a different, more hands-on method of learning the irregular verbs, instead of just copying them down from a chart in the grammar book.  Thus, we bought a set for the whole class to use.  We then added the use of flashcards and daily online quizzes on our class PLN, Edmodo, in a three-step method that will be explained below.  (If you are not familiar with Edmodo, click on this link to read a introductory post to the educational website.)

Step 1

After introducing the Past Simple Tense to our students, and doing some basic sentence building on the board as a class, we pass out the verb wheels.  As there are 96 irregular verbs on the wheels, we decided to make it a week-long activity, so that the students wouldn't be overwhelmed. Therefore, the students are responsible for learning 20 verbs a day for the first four days, leaving only 12 verbs for the final day.

The first step is for the students to make flashcards for the first 20 irregular verbs by using the verb wheels.  On the front of the flashcard, they write down two verbs in the basic (V1) form.  We have them write two verbs per card just to save space.  Then, on the backside, they write down the past simple form (V2) of the verb, as well as a sentence using that particular verb.  In order to save class time, we have the students write out their sentences at home each night.

Step 2

The following day in class, just before having the students work on the next set of flashcards, we give them four to five minutes to work with a friend on the verbs from the previous day.  They use their flashcards to test each other verbally.  While walking around the room, we also join in the fun by testing them on the spot to see if they made their flashcards properly.

Step 3

Finally, after the students have made their flashcards and practiced with a friend, we then assign short online quizzes each day on our class PLN, Edmodo, based on the irregular verbs that were assigned the previous day.  Edmodo allows its users to create online quizzes in four different formats: True / False; Multiple Choice; Fill-in-the-blank; and Short Answer.  For these quizzes, we chose to use 'Fill-in-the-blank'.  When the quiz is opened, the students see the basic form (V1) of the verb, and they simply have to type in the past simple form (V2) in the box given. However, if the verb is spelled incorrectly, it will be counted as a wrong answer.  Therefore, it forces the students to double-check to make sure that they have spelled the verb correctly before submitting the quiz.  If you would like to learn more about how to make an Edmodo quiz, please watch the video below.


In all honesty, this three-step method has been quite successful for us and most of our students for the past two years. The combination of making flashcards with the verb wheels, followed by pair work and formative assessments on Edmodo, keeps the students more engaged than by only using classical methods.  In addition, by only giving a short amount of class time for making the flashcards, it gives the students the responsibility of going home each night and writing sentences with the newly-learned irregular verbs, as well as practicing with their flashcards to help them remember the past simple forms.

video 



Wednesday, 23 October 2013

BILL & TED HELP to LAUNCH STUDENTS into READING

A typical teenager in class, and staring out the window: 

"The sun is out. I DO NOT want to be at school, and now my teacher is telling me we are about to begin the next ESL-reader,'The Time Capsule'. Booorrrrrrrrriinnnnggggg!!

The above example could well be what goes through your teenage students' minds when they learn it is "read-a-book" time.  I know it is in my students' heads because they have told me so. In fact, in my class of 17 students, only TWO students admitted that they liked to read.  So, what to do?  It is certainly a world issue, not just a Turkish one, since it is everywhere on Twitter and educational tv debates that reading is becoming evermore difficult to convince the youth of today that it has huge benefits for them. However, I am not going to spout forth spuriously that I have the answer to this endemic issue.  I am, though, going to share an activity with you, which we did today, that seemed to get the majority of the class engaged in the reading process for 100 minutes.

TASTY WARMER & SPRINGBOARD


video


By using Bill & Ted (a classic teenage movie from the 80s), and by having the short clip subtitled, allows L2-Students to get more of the dialogue than would be possible without them.  The kids loved the chosen clip, and it made them laugh; so they were more curious about the subject matter ahead.  This is the support short subtitled video clips can give you for engaging students in the reading process.

STAGE ONE
The first step for us in the hope of engaging students with a 'smart-powerpoint':


The reason I refer to this ppp (actually just the slide-images of course :-) as 'smart' is that you are beginning to engage the students with funny, exciting and interesting short clips. Then after each one, you start to have discussions about their feelings on Time-Travel.  The environment became very animated during this 30 minutes slot, as all teens are curious about the future. One boy wanted to go forward only four years, so that he could start to drive!  However, thankfully,  some wanted to go back in time to fix mistakes they had made, or to meet their iconic world figure, pop star or musician.
So with the mix of EQs, and interest-evoking conversation-teasers a healthy debate did ensue.  It was then off to the library for SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) and note-taking. 

NOTE: We have found that if we don't get them to properly note-take, and then check, they simply don't read. They muck about and waste everyone's time.

STAGE TWO


Here, the student has deemed it necessary to mark details that she believes could be asked later.  A question like, 

             "Explain, by using evidence and clues from the text,                                
              how you know that Jan is not in her own bedroom." 

could be answered by having highlighted this segment.  It shows that this L2-reader is beginning to grasp contextual clues through text, and that she is engaged in the story.   
We have also found that if we structure and put an exact amount of pages the students actually read (I know that many of the purists out there will frown at this), we get much more from shorter exposure to the text. I guess we could synonymize this with SCAFFOLDING (?), since the students are in a preparatory class for high school, it seems appropriate.  The final part of the actual reading process is the quality of environment.  We always take the students to the library to read alone, and we NEVER read to them in class.  It also gets them out of the usual surroundings of the classroom, which can be quite suffocating after a length of time. We do 25 hours a week with a class for English.


An iphone panoramic view of our students happily reading in a spacious, silent light environment; not to mention the comfort of big soft chairs.  These factors lead to more students reading, and trying to engage with books.

STAGE THREE 

After each child has read the section (for today's read it was 22 pages), they go back to class for the next activity: a worksheet done in pairs.  Of course, not all the students finish at the same time, so we ask those who do to go back over their highlights and add annotations, and to think of questions that could come up on the worksheet.

On return to the classroom, we organize the students into pairs.  We prefer to have a strong student working with a less-able-to-read-in-L2 type of person.  This helps on many levels, not least of all the slower readers and at a lower level don't feel so left out and awkward, plus the quicker, more able ones can feel great that they can help their classmate.  What we saw today was total immersion and engagement during this time.  We even had pairs openly sharing definitions, answers and debating parts of the book for an even greater understanding.


The final part of this activity is us all having a debate/discussion tomorrow about the book's content (S.C.A.S.I.), and hearing the students opinions on why it starts the way it does.  We are always careful to add questions about the characters that can also be personalized relatively easy to suit the students age and age-appropriate development. In fact one of the videos, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is not appropriate for this age-group, if they were to be watching it all. But we chose the trailer, which is family-appropriate, so there can be no problems for either the students or ourselves.

I have to say this was a very enjoyable 100 minutes with the students today. EVEN WITH reading, you can get teenagers to work, provided you set them up to succeed.  If you do it in such a way that they don't even realize they are reading, writing, analyzing, discussing, watching, listening through the power of text, then there appears to be few cracks in the method.  

Please try it out, and if you have any other methods for a mash-up that have worked for you, please write and let us know.