EFL 2.0 Teacher Talk

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Teachers helping Teachers

Teach Learn posterSorry to keep returning to talk about my course book – Teach | Learn.

However, I want to mention a few things and make a request.

I put a lot of work into this book – mostly to prove a few things.

A) A teacher can make a quality textbook and eschew all the filtering and loss of control that comes when publishers own the rights.

B) Student created content can work. It allows for better teacher development when curriculum is made – not just served as a processed slab of meat.

C) Technology allows us to blend the learning experience. It can be right in the course book and doesn’t have to be chunked off and sold separately.

D) Textbooks should be sharable, printable and for the benefit of education, not just profit (but yes, I do think the work of an author should get a “return”. ).

E) Textbooks should be editable. So they can be up to date (and the teacher / students doesn’t have to buy a new copy). So, in the case of language which is not content laden, they can contextualize and personalize for their own learning environment.

But all this won’t be realized without other teachers joining in. Buying the book and also promoting the book. It will take a crowd to make some noise.

So I’d like to ask not just for your support through purchasing the book. I’d like to ask you to let others know about it (and grab the embed code here). Also, write up a review or use it for some action research to present at a conference. Anyone who wants to write a reviewCONTACT ME for a free copy.

I’ll also state that any teacher who forever reason can’t get a copy but wants one – just CONTACT ME. I’m serious. Money or means should never be a reason for not having a resource for your classroom.

My own “Egyptian” moment

gongadze“He not busy making his students come alive, is a busy not teaching, a busy dying”.

I’ve been watching the events in Egypt with intense sentimentalism and empathy.  An extreme desire and understanding. You see, I’ve seen it before and don’t want it to turn out the way it did before.

One of the wonderful things as an EFL teacher, especially in our formative years, is that we get to travel and throw our hat down in very exotic places. My hat and home was Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept 2000. I spent almost a year and was daily participating in the first orange revolution against the dictator Kuchma. A killer, he murdered a journalist and I wrote, walked, yelled, screamed and eventually was run out of the country the following spring. It is a long story but if interested, please learn about Gyorgy Gongadze, his victim. Here too is a poem I wrote about his death.

But during that winter of 2000 – 2001 I learned how a dictatorship can survive and can sweep up protesters and make them disappear. It happened, the trucks came in the middle of the night (as they probably will in Egypt).

But it made me become less the “teacher by numbers” that I had been and more a teacher that took his place and commitment to change students and the world seriously. A critical pedagog – though I hate the label, any label. But what I am online is more or less a birth of those days.

My job became, beyond the mere teaching of ideas and the transmission of knowledge,  to transform students and let them realize their own potential and voice. To get them to awaken. I had had my Egyptian moment as I was hit and run down Lutheranskaya by baby faced guards.  Then, returning, slinking home (my apartment was right beside the Presidential administration building) and seeing the same teenagers, smoking and laughing by the military bus,  telling stories about their “fights”.

So what I’m saying in a nutshell is this – teach beyond the horizon. Teach so students realize the dignity of themselves. Teach how the powerless should meet power and teach that every person counts. Teach that we must make powerlessness be heard. Teach that we must awaken others and ALL be teachers. That is the only legacy a teacher can truly herald – to call others to be teachers that empower others to be born.

I’m busy doing that in my own way these days. I think a little smarter than I used to be (while still understanding the beast that is an institution and laws and the body politic).  I had my Egyptian moment and now I am out in the desert doing my own thing. I really am. I want to be free and lead my own life. That means, I’ve left probably the best English teaching job in Korea. That means leaving security like so many in Egypt and really trying to live free – to in a Syssiphusian and Camus like sense – struggle daily to win my freedom.

Let’s all try as much as we can – to be free and born free. We can do that by teaching our students well. Let’s do it for Gyorgy’s beautiful twin daughters.

Read part 2 HERE.

ELT Chat – great professional development

twitter-chat-treeI would like to highlight ELT Chat – a twitter chat that happens every Wed. at 12 and 21 hr. GMT. (check the World Clock).

Vote below on the topic for this week!

What happens is that great educators offer tips and thoughts on the chat topic. Using the twitter hashtag #eltchat the talks can be wide ranging and a bit chaotic at first. But let yourself get used to it and there is a lot of dense professional development that can occur. Try it, I’m sure you’ll like it.

If you do miss a session, the handy summaries provided by participants are very useful. Here’s an example of one on teaching pronunciation.

Viva la (textbook) revolucion!

revolution textbooksI’ve been, like I’m sure many other have, watching the ongoing events in the Middle East with sheer fascination. The power of normal people to say – “we aren’t going to take it anymore”. The invigorating energy given by technology to inform and empower the powerless. Havel would be so proud these days – something he always talked about.

But what about ELT – English Language Teaching? Has technology, crowd sharing, social media, the internet and connective technologies been liberating?

I’d say that it has but with a caution. There is so much more that could happen (and I believe will). There are still too many “landlords” and “fiefdoms” in our part of education. Still the propertied class that doesn’t pay its share and is concerned with feeding itself and not learning. Let me talk about one small piece of the pie – textbooks.

I’ve been bantering and chirping to myself on Jason Renshaw’s always stimulating and thoughtful blog. I recently stated something there that I’ve always wondered and really grind my teeth over – the fact that we teachers/students, the underclass, purchase materials in the billions of dollars. Paying for yachts and planes (and yes, there are a few in the ELT business that can afford their own planes and boats). We pay but we have zero control.

I mean, why can’t we use technology to edit the materials we have paid for?

Imagine a publisher that would give you a textbook all ready for you to edit and change, as you will. You could do so much;

* put in students names and photos
* record students and have their voices as listening material
* delete the stuff that you don’t want and will never do!
* substitute and replace material
* throw in links that would send students to websites where they can do self directed learning and get more input.
* add photos that are culturally relevant to the students.
* allow innovation and teachers / students into the creative process
* add your own idea… I could go on forever.

Here is Richard Baraniuk describing how this is very possible. See his Connexions for what he’s built for the university / academic world.

And why isn’t this done in ELT? Well basically, it is because of control and archaic protection of copyright laws. Inertia. The money is still rolling in.

It is similar to the remix debate in the music industry. And it suggests that learning is NOT important to publishers – what is important is control and the ability to forever come out with new, “improved” variants. For them to control the curriculum – to say it in a nutshell. (please watch Larry Lessig’s lecture for an esteemed academic’s taking of the same forthright position I am. )

You see, if they allowed you (after purchase) to edit a textbook – why would you ever need to buy another one? OMG! That would just destroy their planned obsolescent model.

Let me return to the point about the possibility that edited textbooks would have. (not to mention how up to date they’d be).

Here is the first page of a unit from Interchange 2. Here are my suggestions, imaging what I’d do if I could just click on the document, change and then print for my students (and oops! forgot to mention, how would they ever make money if we could just print as we wished!).

interchange change

I think we need a revolution in the ELT publishing and textbook industry. The people (students and teachers) need power and control. Teachers know best for their students. Teachers who design and create materials for their students (or even just adapt) are strong teachers. It informs them.

We need a wikipedia, Web 2.0, read/write revolution in the textbook world. My textbook out next week – Teach | Learn will be fully editable (and edible!). Viva La (textbook) Revolucion!

Teach | Learn example lesson

Last week I wrote about a forthcoming course book that I am publishing – Teach | Learn.

It will be out next week but thought it would be interesting to some, to see a sample lesson and to get a few thoughts about the delivery of this lesson and the use of the course book.

Here is an example lesson. All 36 lessons are like this one and have the same methodology more or less. I’m using a lesson I showed previously, so you might also see how this book has developed and been designed.

Basically it goes like this:

Page 1: Whole class. A student or teacher is at the front of the classroom and is the focus of the target language. The activity is completed (see Teacher’s Notes below, which are for each lesson in the back of the book). This gets students comfortable with the target language and prompts background knowledge and schema.

Page 2. Pairs / Small groups. Students do the same but with their own language, questions, input, experiences. There are multi media materials to click which both teacher or student can use to reinforce, repeat or complement the lesson.

I’ll have more tomorrow about the rationale for this methodology. Go here for some more thoughts on my own beliefs/process in creating this course book.

teachlearn your last vacation recipe

Coming Soon

Teach – Learn is almost ready! It will be here soon and to be used and enjoyed instantly with students. 36 complete “student created content” lessons with an abundance of extra materials / blackline masters and clickable online lesson extensions / ideas.  Also, an online voicethread community where students can practice,  supporting each lesson.

Looking forward to your support, use and feedback on how effective this is in the classroom. It will have its own special forum and community.


Interview with myself

teaching wig{ I think this a great reflective activity for any teacher. Going to make this  part of the curriculum in some of my future courses, for sure }

What subjects have you been teaching? What types of students do you have?

I’ve been teaching TESOL,  both certificate and graduate students but recently moved back to Canada and now teach at the Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University – core courses to aspiring B.Ed. students.  Also do a lot of online work and spend lots of time building EnglishCentral where I’m the Director of Education. Presently busy setting up an online  School of TEFL.

Can you provide a link to a site where we can see something about what you do or the center where you work?

http://eflclassroom.com/david is my personal site with links to all my other “doings”.  Also, see my Google profile (every teachers should have one!). I have a large LinkedIn professional development group and my LinkedIn profile is a good place to see what I’ve been up to.

How have your past experiences prepared you for teaching? How did you become interested in education?

I “fell” into education. Was a steelworker and fell off a building and had to start a new career. There was a teacher’s college in my town and as I recovered, I went to school.

I’ve always been a self learner, curious type. Spent hours in libraries, “the headquarters of civilization”. To me, teaching is just an extension of my normal curiosity about the world.

Started teaching overseas for lack of jobs in Canada (1990). Then, went to many other countries, got an M.Ed. and also started teacher training and developing curriculum. Now, very much at the forefront in the field of educational technology and work with many sites/teachers to develop the use of technology in language classrooms.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

By far – Mr. Worth. H.S. math teacher who taught me that you have to “keep it simple” and give students success. Further, he cared about students and was positive/energetic. Always outside his class cheer leading. His influence led me into my whole notion of  education as a humanistic endeavor. He recently passed away and see my post about him HERE.

What writers/thinkers have influenced you as a teacher?

Oh so many! I really must say that A.S. Neill really started me down the path of of viewing the student as being ill done by, by our school systems. That led into unschooling/deschooling – Illych, Postman, Gatto. Nel Noddings rates high and is one of many “humanists” that have influenced my classroom behavior. I’m now a very big advocate of the Sudbury school model and self-directed learning.

As far as language goes – I’m a fan of Vygotsky and think “Thought and Language” the bible of our profession. George Lakoff is an updated hero, especially regarding the role metaphor and thought play in learning and language. Carl Rogers and Eliot Eisner are two thinkers I’ve read over and over – I came upon them late but alas, it is never too late. In technology, really have to say I’m very impressed with the work of Sugata Mitra and how he’s communicating the new self directed learning paradigm which is changing education.

What is your educational philosophy?

That would require a very long answer. Go here to see it! I’m very much quite a mish mash. I’m a traditionalist/essentialist but on the other hand espouse critical pedagogy.

In short – it is to instill the hunger of something outside ourselves. To participate in mutual creation. A vocation not a career. It’s all about helping to create happy individuals.

What is the most challenging aspect of teaching for you?

I think the most challenging aspect of teaching is keeping up with everything. There is so much that comes at a teacher, so much change. Especially in my area of technology but also just in terms of the day to day of a classroom. There are a thousand things to do and teaching is the art of deciding which are important and prioritizing things.

Recent studies have shown that teachers like air traffic controllers, make thousands of decisions every day. It ain’t easy but you got to get good at it or suffer the consequences!

What kind of relationship do you have with your students?

I think each teacher will have a different relationship with students. It depends on their teaching style and personality. Also, that of the student.

Myself, I have come around to doing a lot of class team building activities to create a learning community. This is essential. I try my best to set up the right environment so I the teacher can disappear and see / allow the students to grow.

What is the secret to instilling interest in knowledge?

Hunger, creating hunger.

Truly it is that simple and it is a lesson I learned too late in life.

Every student is learning at all times. No one stops learning. Learning is part of our evolutionary skill set. But for our students to learn “the right” things – we have to instill hunger in them.

How? This can be done in many ways. Most importantly, make the subject “speak” through the teacher’s passion. The student will believe it “important”. I learned to love reading by watching my teachers read on their own. I thought – this reading thing must be so interesting, look at how interested my teachers are!

Watch Sugata Mitra’s lively talk. He shows how hungry children get for knowledge when you create the right, the proper organic conditions for their learning.

This “instilling” or planting of a seed – really is the true job of a teacher. Or we risk the response of Richard Brautigan’s student.

The Memoirs of Jessie James

I remember all those thousands of hours
I spent in grade school watching the clock
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jessie James
for all the time they stole from me.

What is your philosophy on homework and grading?

I’m not a big fan of Alfie Kohn but he does have the right take on homework being rather useless and just, “get it done”. It lacks intrinsic motivation and while I wouldn’t cross out all homework, I think it should be done selectively, depending on the student’s motivation, time and skills.

Homework should be sneaky. Meaning, “do exercises 3,4 and 5″ won’t cut it. We have to make the homework something that applies to real life and the student’s world. Interviews, video recording, surveys, questions that can be answered “in the world”.

Grading. Well, I think this is something ever teacher struggles with. Philosophically and practically. We should treat every child/student as an individual but we should also have some “standard” for the learning. How to balance these two opposing ideals?

I think we have to use a lot more self-grading. Also, more forms of alternative assessments which grade “in situ” and are much more indicative of the process of learning. Much better at telling the students exactly what they need to do to master the curriculum. Assessment/grading shouldn’t be a wall but a means of describing to the student how they can get better, what they have to learn more / do more to achieve the “standard”.

If grading means a big letter stamped on a piece of paper or a number scratched over a student’s work – I’m all for its elimination.

My own evaluation page has some great thoughts and readings on evaluation!

Is it possible to teach creativity? how?

I think creativity is there at all times. So we don’t have to teach it but rather, let it flourish and grow. The problem though (as outlined in Ken Robinson’s iconic talk/lecture – http://bit.ly/hlx7XB ), we as teachers kill creativity.

Picasso said it best. He said that the aim of life wasn’t to grow out of childhood but to remain as a child. Meaning that childhood has a lot of good things that we shouldn’t “throw away” or “kill” by becoming adults.

Teachers need to get students creating through their own intelligence and less by rote and design. Give them projects, teach everything through a story (truly shown to lead to results and creativity – our brain is hard wired for this). Allow students the independence they need to arrive at the knowledge in their own way/fashion.

This means our teaching should be MUCH more inductive and discovery based. I love the new focus on question based curriculum – really effective for promoting thinking skills and inquiry. We need to allow our students to reach the answer in their own way – not just give them the answer. That’s inductiveness in a nutshell. Sandbox learning doesn’t stop after kindergarten!

How do you establish authority? What do you do when a discipline problem arises?

I know it sounds trite but authority is no longer “l’etat c’est moi”, it is earned not given.

A teacher should have a clear and transparent set of rules and consequences and should also be held accountable too (works both ways!).

A teacher should always think of the underlying motivations and cause of any behavior in the classroom. In a sense, like a colleague Andrew Finch always espoused – the teacher is truly a psychologist.

When discipline problems arise, the teacher should have a clear plan or procedure in place. Note the problem / problems and occurrences to have documentation and to see patterns. Don’t confront students – use time out areas or take the student away from the group. Again, find out the root cause. Either by talking to the student or investigating (asking other teachers / parents). Often, students are simply wanting attention. Giving them control and responsibility in the classroom is something I have found works wonders!

I’m at heart anti-authoritarian. Each to his/her own, by their own means. However, in a group/classroom situation, there has to be accommodation to others and it is the teacher’s role to facilitate that negotiation.

What issues in education are of greatest concern to you?

The issues I see as crucial, over the next few decades are:

1. What must a student learn? The question of curriculum in a rapidly changing world where new kinds of jobs are constantly materializing. Have we outgrown standard education?

2. How do you measure “knowledge”? We need more open forms of schooling and allowing “authority” to assess and grant certificates more liberally. The traditional schooling model is breaking down.

3. Copyright. Technology is challenging the notion that one has ownership of ideas. How will we allow teachers to use “the whole world” as a resource. Allow students to remix, reuse, reinterpret. Education needs a pass when it comes to copyright and use in the classroom for educational purposes. Governments should oblige.

4. The “business” of education.
More and more, education is being “farmed out” and we are destroying the integrity of our education. Degrees are becoming commodities and bought/sold – not something reflecting levels of competence, achievement and understanding. How to battle this? What is the proper balance so that education remains accessible and at a low cost? What’s worth fighting for?

5. Technology. The use of online learning, synchronous learning is eroding the old traditional 4 walls definition of schooling. How will authority, policy, governments change to embrace this fact? What does this new learning paradigm entail and mean for society? Will the internet become “free” so all can take advantage or will we “toll” these roads/highways that are vital to our civilization’s flourishing?

Would it be a good thing if teachers had economic incentives based on student performance?

No, I don’t think so. Seems like it should be a “no brainer” but it really is difficult to quantify what exactly “learning” is. If I’ve learned anything as a teacher over the years, it is that learning happens in strange and beautiful ways. Often what we are teaching is just a spark for learning to happen elsewhere. Should we limit learning and put it on a one way street?

I think of all those not so “schooled” like Edison or Farnsworth (who invented the TV). They learned but they didn’t do it in a straight, paint by the numbers fashion that standardized curriculum proposes.

I think the calls for basing teacher evaluation and salary on student performance is a hold over (or continuation) of the factory and assembly line school system first developed over 150 years ago. We have to go somewhere else….

Hey, but what about giving students financial incentives for their achievement? That might more truly reflect how our society works and prepare them for “life”.

Besides more financial resources, what do today’s schools lack?

I think today’s schools lack one BIG thing – support for teachers.

Teachers need to be valued. They need time for professional development. They need to feel important (however sentimental that sounds).

Schools lack ideas too. Very few are really opening up to the idea that learning can happen outside the walls of a school. Also, schools should open up and allow themselves to not be islands but part of a community. Schools should invite old people into the classrooms, on a daily basis (and given the demographics of the world – a great idea).

Schools need to promote student critical thought and harness the energy of students. At present, too often, they suck that energy away.

Schools also need technology. Simple technology – meaning not just expenditure to have the new gadgets but technological training for teachers and full wireless access to all students/classes. Projectors, computers and screens in all classes and let the games begin!

And undoubtedly, schools lack internal validity and motivation. When students “want”, they do learn. This doesn’t happen in schools often enough.

What are your professional goals? Where do you want to be in five years?

I’m presently changing my focus.

I’ve taught teachers for a long time but in a traditional classroom setting. However, I’ve always promoted the power and possibility of online learning and technology. So, I’m now venturing online and will soon have a School of TEFL – an online school, offering accredited courses in both TEFL and technology and teacher development. http://schooloftefl.com

In 5 years, I’d like to have developed the school to the point where I’d have secure enough income from teaching online to be able to go to the developing world and open my own schools. Haiti or El Salvador. Open a school and help children on the ground. So my business endeavors are all geared to this and being able to spend my later years helping others in more challenged educational environments. In a nutshell – to make a difference.

What qualities would you need to see in someone before advising him/her to go into teaching?

This is a hard one to give a definitive answer to. It is all about “commitment” and I encourage all new teachers to really think about what their own philosophy of education is and find out just how committed they are to education. It ain’t no cakewalk!

It is a hard thing to advise because so often, it isn’t that we need a certain type of teacher. We need many kinds of teachers, with many different personalities. However, it is difficult to match teachers with schools/classrooms. We need to do a much better job matching students with teachers. Why should they all just go from grade to grade en mass without a thought about their match with the teacher?

However, there are some definitive qualities I’d like to see in a teacher……

planning/organizational skills, curious and passionate, flexible and social learner, empathy and able to see themselves in their students shoes.

These blog posts of mine – outlines some of these ideas.


Affordable, “on the go” eteaching

bbblogoPreviously, I wrote and got a lot of great feedback (thank you those who responded!) about a video conferencing system I was creating and making available. Well, finally it is on the horizon…… I think it quite timely given that Dimdim is being wiped from the sky as a low cost alternative.

We are still testing but I think an update is due. We estimate it to be ready for launch next week.

Watch this “presenter” screencast tutorial to find out more OR go try out the sandbox testing room for yourself. The proof is in the pudding. We are still tinkering with audio settings and also our servers. However, most is a go. When we launch we will always have a 5 min demo for all potential users. This helpful presentation will also default launch to help users.

Here are a few things that set the rooms apart:

1. Make rooms “on the go”. No need for a permanent account or to have a permanent room.

2. Simplicity. Not a lot of clutter. The listener comes and can follow immediately. No steep learning curve. (but please use a headset!).

3. Focus. Only the presenter has an operating camera. They control who talks and who else can present on the whiteboard and with a camera. They simply give control to someone else (or take it away).

4. Personalization. The basic rooms allow you to put up your own title that is linked to the homepage of your choice. Add a start up message too.

5. Social Media friendly. Tweet the room. Facebook the room. Let others know about your session with only a few clicks. The first of its kind.

6. Google translate “breakaway” chat rooms.
Chat with selected attendees in a breakaway room and also have your chat auto-translated to the language of your choice. Really amazing stuff.

7. Price. The rooms will be a low monthly fee of $25. The annual price $180. Nothing cheaper out there, with the features. Nothing. We will also offer customized service to large schools/organizations. Get your own colors, own server and security salt/key for integration with moodle and other learning management systems. Just contact us.

My Year in Review

Vision2010_LogoYes, that time again.  Time for all the “reviews” of what happened in 2010.  Time for all the pundits to come out of the closet and do their thing.

I won’t bore you by doing much the same. However, I do think that those new to this blog/site might do well to be reminded of all I’ve worked on this year and which might come handy in their classroom! I’m proud of my work ethic (non profit!) and 2010 was a dandy…..  [not interested in this? – try the IHTs 2010 year in review slideshow or scroll to the bottom and see Google’s Zeitgeist video]

My Year in Review:

Jan: fell in love with English Central after contacting former Nuance execs about a voice recognition reading idea. Worked with them and they took my suggestion to add a teacher tracking area. Sign up as a teacher and track your students as they practice with this amazing technology. In 2011, English Central will come out with a new learning system. Stay tuned!

Feb: Gave a fav. speech on “The 5 Faces of Happiness”, about teaching and happiness.  Lots of great feedback from the large crowd. Watch  an excerpt and get resources  here.

March: As usual – lots of orientations / greeting new teachers for the large public school teaching programs in Korea (EPIK / SMOE ).  Featured presentation at the Annual Seoul Conf. on culturally specific content.

April: the Random ELT Blog Generator gets a start. Designed with over 300 ELT blogs. Just click a button and let serendipity do the rest!

May: My own profile/portfolio page goes live. (got to update it!). More training / traveling. Our Quizlet group starts up and now has hundreds of publicly available flashcard sets!

June: TEFList, the only ELT job site that has all the jobs is launched. I’d been working on it almost 2 years! It will remain available and free for teachers. Also the twitter feed of over 400 jobs daily!  Ning begins killing off free sites and I lose 8 micro sites and loads of content. Boo!  Lots of work providing World Cup resources for teachers!

July: Gave a graduation speech and left my job teaching at a graduate school of TEFL, to return to Canada. Lots of sadness and hope mixed together. Want to be near my parents and also “walk the talk”. Teach a TEFL certificate course online.    My book “Zen and the Act of Teaching” comes out. The best Web 2.0 tools for teaching languages is produced after use in several training sessions.

August: EFL Classroom hosts the 18th ELT blog carnival. A real carnival! Lots of lectures to new teachers. ELT and Tech, a technology and teaching languages tutorial site is launched.  Start my “Captive Mind” series in response to academia’s walling of content.

September: The #1 in ELT ebook comes out.   Finally leave for Canada to start chopping wood.

October: I begin working on a video conference system to be available Jan. 2011. Based on open source software development, it is unique and embraces my own ideas of what functionality/use an eteaching room should have. [It's really cool].  Started the LinkedIn group – ELT Professionals around the world. Join us!

November: Begin hard work on my forthcoming textbook – Teach / Learn. Lots of work left but I think it a revolutionary methodolgy and way for new teachers especially to teach effectively.   Raised from the dead, the old Seti Teachers site and it is renamed “School of TEFL”. So much content for teachers – couldn’t let it die.  Made available – Record and Email a Video for teachers

December: snowed in, in Canada. Began with earnest working on the content for my new TEFL Certificate course with a concentration in educational technology. Classes start late Feb.  Fully accredited. Site will be working in Jan. for registration.   Create a cool Youtube searchable and ad free player for teachers.

Now 2011!  The new School of TEFL, new video conferencing rooms, a new coursebook. Can’t wait! If I can keep getting up and hungry for what can be done – I’ll be happy. Here in Canada or anywhere.

Happy New Year to All!

See how the whole world searched through 2010 with Google’s Zeitgeist video.

Listening for Gist – the 5 Ws

listeningListening is one of the most overlooked skills, especially in the initial stages / levels of language learning. (see my blog post here about this and download the activities ebook).

Using authentic listening materials combined with the 5 Ws, really makes a great multi level approach. Best used with news reports and I especially like the old “Newsround” of BBC. (here’s the current version) Get many that I’ve saved HERE on EFL Classroom 2.0 for download. They really work because they aren’t so serious in nature and also the reporters are real teens!

There are generally 3 stages to this listening activity.

1. Play the excerpt in full and students note the headline/topic. (give a choice for lower levels).

2. Play the excerpt again and stop before each news item. Ask the students in groups/pairs to ask and answer the 5 Ws for that report. Take up as you go.

3. Play the full program again. Check for comprehension. Get the Ss to make their own news report along the same lines – 5 quick items.

Here’s one I’ve used often in class!

Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

Who says who is a “bad” teacher?

profcornetI wanted to name this post – “We need bad teachers” but thought that would get me off on a tangent. So I decided to voice it about those who might think they have “the authority” to decide who is or isn’t a bad teacher.

It’s cold here in Canada. I’m snowed in. Seems like the world is going to end. The good thing is that I live right next to an amazing library. Also, have begun collecting all my own thousands of books in various homes and storage lockers. Further, got all kinds of channels and “English” content.

I mention this by way of introducing the fact that I’ve been bombarded by media here in Canada and the U.S. declaring the need to “get rid of bad teachers” and “passing blame” on teaching for all kinds of societal failures. So I got to asking myself – “Who has the right to say another teacher is bad?” — besides gross negligence, what is a “bad” teacher?

I was watching Oprah and this angelic lady comes on representing some budding organization called, “Students First”. Oh yeah, just what we need – the tea party for education. Now, I knew nothing about this group but could smell a rat a mile away as she kept saying that study after study said that if America only eliminated their worst 5% of teachers, they’d become 30% more “achieving” and enter into the world elites in education. Malarky! (read her wish for “excellent teaching” - which I’m not against only that it will turn into a witch hunt). I was tearing my hair out and almost threw my new big screen out the bloody window! Oh, yeah, this group shouldn’t be called “Student’s first” but rather, “Teaching last”.

All these bureaucrats and those without an iota of actually getting in the mud – calling for the heads of “bad teachers”!

The next day, I finally got to see the documentary, ” Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer? – the story of Professor Norman Cornett. (borrowed from the library, the headquarters of civilization and that’s why I mentioned it). Please view the trailer and see it when possible. If any case addresses the need to have “bad” teachers, this is it.

You see, Dr. Cornett was fired without explanation from McGill University in Montreal. And he was a born teacher, a loved teacher, a guy who put “student’s first” by being there every day and caring. Knowing student’s names and lives and doing what is best for them. Fired, most likely because he was a teacher that didn’t stick to a “fixed” curriculum but saw students as human beings and not empty vessels. Most likely because he taught students, not curriculum. Most likely because he tried to awaken students, not put money in their academic piggy bank.

What about all the teachers out there who “awaken”, who are different and who care in a different way? If I know anything, once we start deciding what a good teacher is (without asking parents/students) we will start eliminating the Professor Cornett’s from our kindergartens and our middle schools. We’ll have a regular, puritanical witch hunt. You know how it goes, to quote Pastor Niemoller’s words, “First they came for the Socialists but ….” Now, I’m speaking. (and please see this post and comments about Prof. Cornett. – speaks volumes about how he continues to teach without a job/income!)

And presently there is the “Edublog Awards”. Now, who is to say who is a best blogger? Just throwing that out there but I only want 3 readers. I can drum up 2 any day. The third I’m always looking for…. I don’t need another system (Edublogs, PLNs) saying who is better than who. I really don’t. Let’s get off this boat before we sink and start thinking water is air.

Education and teaching should not be based on outcomes. It should be based on engagement. These are two, two so very different things. Thank god for the Professor Cornett’s of the world. Wish I’d of had more in my own development (all I remember in this vein is Dr. Rosa – a Texan cowboy anthropologist who taught me a course in “The Science fiction of anthropology”).

Teacher’s are not “made” overnight. They bake slowly. They are not all similar and two “great” teachers might appear made of completely different cloth and batter.

So what am I saying in a nutshell?

I’m saying, based upon my own years of having to go into classrooms and evaluate teachers (there are probably some of them reading this) – it is all nonsense. Who knows who is a better teacher? Beyond negligence, we need those committed to teaching and committed to their students. The rest is chaff and blow and hot air.


Where is the positive in this world?

Over and out.

Age and ELTing

courtesy SteenDoessing

courtesy SteenDoessing

Let me start by asking this – do you love your teaching job?

Let me now ask, can you imagine teaching until you die?

I can. I really can. I don’t know what the future holds but right here, right now, I can imagine being old and teaching, loving teaching.

Now let me ask – do you think you’d be allowed to? Teach that is – when you’re say 68 years young or 72/73? Probably not and I think that unfortunate. And it happens to a helluvalot of teachers, day in and year out.

This post is to bring this issue into the light of day. Please tell me what you think by commenting….

I am raising this issue because this year, I’ve got contacted quite a few times by teachers who love teaching, with a lot of experience but who can’t get a job doing what they love. Why? They are “too old”.

And I’m at a loss as to what I can advise.

I tell them that they can find a job, if they truly love teaching. Just hang in there, I say. Some school will want them. Too often then not, that isn’t true. Too often then not, they have to go further afield, further out on the fringes of the ELT world. And I think that is wrong.

Now I know governments have to operate by rules. I know private schools prefer blonde and bouncy. Now I know that teaching is a demanding job. I know all this – what I don’t know is why someone in good health, with a vast amount of experience, can’t find a job teaching? Why the bias, why don’t we stop this and raise our voices in our staff rooms, lunch rooms and board rooms?

And it is even just as bad getting elderly people into our classrooms when they are NOT even teachers! As a public school teacher, I advocated bringing the elderly in our community, into our school’s classrooms. I got nowhere! It was an insurance issue. Parents would complain, yadda yadda yadda…. Our class had to be satisfied trekking to the old age home once a week. God forbid they’d show up in our classroom – though many could have worked me under the table!

What I’m asking is — why the societal and institutional bias against the elderly teaching our children, either formally for pay or informally, for the love of it?

What are your thoughts and experiences?

To those teachers I’ve emailed about this – keep looking. It’s worth it.

Language and Power – WTF?

wtfToday, I watched a CNBC episode of their new series “What the Future” (WTF).  I’ll refrain from commenting on their narrative and how they provide pleasant propaganda to the masses about helping those less fortunate. I find their message of “choice not charity” rather simplistic and self serving to their business clientele.

No, what hit me while watching the episode (about micro financing of urban poor in Nairobi) was how they used language – specifically subtitling. Every poor black person had their spoken language subtitled, even though their English was in many cases clearer than the white presenters’ /narrators’.  Go figure? I’ve noticed this before over the years. Especially how Hollywood would throw in subtitling of Asian characters, even though their fluency and pronunciation was fine. What gives?

Language IS power and I find in operation here, a certain unacknowledged linguistic colonialism. No spirit that accepts the realities of the new “Globlish” and International English that is flourishing around the world. I essence, those with power and money – the producers of these shows (like CNBC) are saying, “We speak the right English and they don’t”. Even though their English is very clear and understandable, they are using subtitles to silently and serendipitiously promote the idea that these individuals, races, peoples, cultures are “lesser” and “impure”.

Now maybe I’m taking the arguement too far but I’ll let you be the judge. Watch the episode and come to your own conclusions. Language is used as a means of power and to power. In this case, I find it all a bit too much. I wish I could produce my own episode where all the whiteys were subtitled and the Blacks, Russians, Asians weren’t.  The understanding would still be the same but the message, as McLuhan would have said, the “massage” , would have been different.

[by the way - I like the series!  I just don't like their way of subtitling.]

Edublog Awards – My thoughts.

everyone's a winnerI’m a competitive person so this post is REALLY hard for me. I’m the kind of guy who will compete to see who can stand on one leg the longest. I’m hyper competitive and work hard because I love doing so but also because of this “competitive streak”.

So it has been a hard and painful road to realize that blogging and more generally “education” shouldn’t be competitive. It already is so very competitive and we shouldn’t make it more. That’s why, concerning this year’s Edublog awards - I’m saying EVERYONE’S A WINNER BABY!

This feeling has been growing. See this previous post and my creation of the Random ELT Blog generator because I really didn’t want nor see the need to rank others, leave others out. Same in our classrooms. When we make thinking, intelligence, study, learning into a competition – we leave a lot of winners out the equation. We really do.

This in no way, is meant to frown upon others participating (and if I’m nominated, no problem, I’m honored). It is just that I want to refrain from these “competitions”, in the spirit of my own professional development and understanding (ongoing). It’s been a long road for this competitive titan to realize how harmful competition is in our educational system and I want to stick to my guns/beliefs as they stand.


If you enjoyed this post – you might enjoy “The Competitive Side of Schooling”

Get this song in karaoke for teaching and play with the karaoke player. Thousands more karaokes on EFL Classroom 2.0.

Making a book of your blog

wordleI recently took the #1 series of posts here and made it into an ebook! (see it below).

What’s great about this, is how sharable/portable it is. Everything is clickable and fully hyperlinked. Put it on a memory stick or with a click, send it around the netiverse. Further, I was through this process, able to clean up the posts, make them more attractive and accessible and finally, use this as a means of asking for a donation to support our community of teachers – EFL Classroom 2.0 (the costs in time and money are mounting considerably but get it free by registering and supporting our video job site – TEFList [just register and turn your profile off until looking for a job]).

So let me related what I went through to make my blog into a book – my own experience and tips.

1.  I made each blog post into its own html page. I took the code from each post and put it into EFL Classroom’s free htlm editor (open source and amazing!).

2.  I formatted the page using the visual editor. Some photos needed to be reuploaded / resized. Text needed to be resized and formatted. Also, during this step, I reread all posts and edited once again. Usually cutting out all irrelevant text or any writing that was about other people or referring to something in a particular context that was no longer relevant.

3.  Save the html page and create your hyperlinked pdf document. I used PDF Online’s beta converter. I literally spent 8 hours searching and testing many, to be able to find this perfect beast (you’ll need to make an account).  I uploaded the pages from my computer and then downloaded them as a pdf, each time checking and changing/redoing – mostly to get the right page length.

4. Make a title page, table of contents and other pages. I made these in microsoft word. Just do so and then convert to pdf. Easy to do but you’ll need a plug in (here’s what I downloaded and installed). Go to print and then select Abobe Printer from the drop down list (not your normal printer). Also, hit properties to set other variables in detail. Check the conversions and if any problems, edit the word document and reconvert until you get what you want.

5. Assemble the book. Very easy to merge multiple PDF pages. Go through the steps here.

6. Post to various social media libraries like Scribd, Docstoc, Slideshare, Authorstream etc….

I choose to “sell” the book. There are many options for this. I used the very simple – Upload And Sell Just upload and set the price and get the link! Those who pay, will get a 24 hour timeset download link after payment.  You might also take your pdf and make a hardcover book on Lulu! See how I did this in this blog post - Zen and the Act of Publishing a Book.

There are many services which will make your blog into a book – however, the product you get won’t be that professional and it will also be “flat”, meaning, the links will be dead. That’s fine if you have a blog that doesn’t refer to other documents/resources. It will in most cases, cost $$$$$. Blurb, BookSmart, FastPencil, SharedBook and Blog2Print are some of the notables you should visit if interested.

Here’s a sample of the final product below. If you’d like to support EFL Classroom 2.0 – please purchase the whole enchillada HERE with a small $5 donation. Every penny will help us (it costs me about $1,100 / year to run EFL Classroom, not counting the hours and hours of time).

If you liked this post – you might like this one, “Making a Hard Copy of your Blog”

Why less is more …..

hot_sauce First, let me warn you that this piece is a bit confessional. It might not right now apply to your general situation but hopefully these thoughts about my own life, might have some bearing on your own life and teaching.

Yesterday, I was skyping with an old friend who I admire a lot. We talked about the usual stuff. Sports, food, gossip etc…. then, he gave me a piece of advice that has led me to write this. He said, “David, you do too much!”.

Now, I had to think about that. Meaning, yes, I do a lot and am always being labeled, “a hard worker” etc… But I’ve never felt like I was working “hard”. Rather just being who I am and doing wasn’t working, it was being. However, I’m reconsidering.

My friend went on to suggest that “less is more”. That by doing so much, my impact, my usefulness to others, was not as effective as “doing less”.

Now, I’ve always espoused the wisdom of a motto I came up with, “Live simply, simply live”. But suddenly, I am now confronted with the fact that even if I enjoy doing so much – it might not be the right thing. This “more” might lead to “less”. Kind of like when you eagerly throw a lot of spice on your pasta and then find it is inedible.

I’m moving back to the farm in Canada. Going back to chop wood and think/write. But I also think it is a good time to “do less”. To really do some more simple but in that way, more “powerful” things.

It is something we should think about in our teaching. We should all forget these monikers like “unplugged” and “dogme”. Really, they are only approaches that stand for “Simple Teaching”. We do too much with our students in language. We need to slow down and do less. Doing less is more. I won’t elaborate but I hope you/me/we/us think about that and the effect it could/will have on our teaching. My guess is something DRAMATIC. I talked a bit about this in this post about teaching skills.

In my own teaching, I am guilty and this is the number one thing that teachers/students have complained about. I throw too much at them, have them do too much. It is overwhelming.  I have to think about this criticism and develop and do less, to do more.

So expect to hear less from me online. But in a very important way, that will be MORE.

[to finish, please enjoy this talk (not about tech despite the name) by Barry Schwartz. Lots of food for thought/researched examples by this fine man/thinker. ]

Public and Free LMS

Efront, our language learning management system has been tested and is up and running! Fully live.

I’ll be holding courses there after my move, later this fall. I hope members will sign up to my courses in TESOL and also Educational Technology. But feel free to register now and start your own class using this world class platform. I did a lot of research before setting this up for members who want to have a classroom online, track students and build their own course in a secure private or public platform.

When you sign up, you’ll have student privleges by default. Use the demo account (ID/PW: demo / eflclassroom) to experience what it is like as an admin – to set up courses, start lessons and manage your students or in some cases, teachers. Then contact me, as the email instructs when you register and I’ll asap set you up with full admin powers.

Comments/thoughts welcome. I know a lot of smaller schools don’t have any chance at something like this – so I’m providing it in the hope that teachers will take advantage of it.

I’ll also mention – use this and get some very powerful tools beyond forums and blogs for students. Also wikis, fully functional one click video conferencing, calendars, gradebooks and more….

You might ask why I am doing this? Well, it is in keeping with my ethos and belief that ideas and learning should not be hid behind four walls. We should share our knowledge and curriculum. After you build a course, you can export and use wherever you want. It won’t be kept hostage, never really to be used again by a school, publisher or institution. Let’s keep ideas flying free.

Food for Thought

brain-food Recently, S. Korea announced that despite all the hostilities and tension with N. Korea, they would deliver food aid to the flood ravaged nation. (see AP article here.)

This got me thinking about my own views on food and then knowledge.

You see, I’ve always, always, always been adamant that food isn’t something one owns. It is to be shared and it is anyone’s right when at my house or in a restaurant, to share anything that is in my cupboard or on my plate. Food is sacred, life giving and not something to covet. It is the source of all our being and like one wouldn’t bottle and refuse air or oxygen to others in need – so to food.

Now I realize the practicalities and don’t take it to an extreme. “Need” is the definitive word here. Someone not hungry and who just wants to clean out my cupboard and resell my food – would get a swift kick. S.Korea is giving food aid because N.Korea needs it and that supercedes all else.

A brief aside. I remember once in Corsica, a very famous German politician came and visited us. We had an amazing evening of wine and food and conversation, laughter and music. The politician drank voluminously but finally, jet lagged and it being late, got up to go to his room. Dead drunk, he pulled out his wallet and threw some money on the table. Then, proceeded to go into the house where he fell upon the first visible “comfort” , a sofa and passed out. Hilarious but it solidifies the point that food is to be shared, it isn’t something just bought and sold.

What about knowledge? I truly believe that much of the bounty and abundance of modern society is because of the free and mostly unfettered flow of information. It is about access to the food of the brain – knowledge/information. Those that need – our students, the curious, the motivated and creative – they all should have access to it.

It is becoming abundantly clear that something is going and growing amiss. So many organization and individuals covet and commoditize knowledge. We put it into books beyond the access of many people. We take open source products and sell them, when it costs pennies (and I know about this – I offer free video conferencing and Learning management systems to schools or teachers and I am far from rich. But I find individuals selling these same products for hundreds of dollars / month!). Ads are with everything, even though cost is not prohibitive. Access is being charged to a higher and higher degree – in many cases, extravagantly almost to the point of usery. (one small beam of light, Tim Berners – Lee, one of the creators of the Internet, has called for FREE access for all). Why do so many go blind to this? As the internet consolidates, the walls ARE closing in and I think more educators should push back.

I won’t rant on. My post today is just to give everyone some food for thought. What about giving education a pass and letting students truly have full access to the world of knowledge. Allow teachers full reign to use knowledge and information in an educational setting?

Utopian? Yes. As Shelly said, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

The #1 …. (kid to inspire 2nd language learners)

Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.

The Hey Jude Kid

This tottler, just 2 years old at the time, belts out “Hey Jude” with the best of them! Really inspiring and after watching, your students will be a little more apt to “take a swing” and just try to speak some English. He really helps lower the affective filter!

Strong seconds and recommendations go to: Lily – the Geography Genius and Andora Svitak – the young writing genius.

Helping others, help themselves

Holding-handsOver the last several months, I’ve been corresponding with Mike Marzio, the wonderful engineer behind Real-English videos. Corresponding about a campaign to raise funds for Zacharia, a poor, bright spirited deaf man in Kenya.

We wondered how to go about it. Would others respond? Fortunately, Mike has the resolve and has got things organized, including a website where you can find out lots about Zacharia and his needs/life.

I really do think that one of the most powerful things about “technology” is not all the gadgetry and wizardry and pyrotechnics. What is so amazing is how we can “come together” as Lennon might have sang. Contrary to the luddites who shout how it makes people become lonely, self absorbed souls – it makes the world a smaller, more understanding place. I truly believe that. With a click of a button or a lift of a switch – we can be across the ocean and connect with the whole realm of humanity.

And with this amazing ability comes responsibility. To do what you can, to help who you can. We have this opportunity and I hope readers who get so much from my blog, will think about helping Zach, helping with the gift of education. It’s not about the money but about the love.

Listen to Mike and then Zach as he tells his story. Chip in, pass it on and help in that way too.