Two workshop prezis from JALTCALL 2010 at Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan, May 29th – 30th 2010.

Parallel Learning: How online teacher development informs classroom practice

Video blogging and Podcasting: Interviews with English Language Teaching Professionals

As you can imagine, there is a fair bit of overlap between the two sessions, so I chose to use the ‘flavour of the month’ presentation tool to make one big slide with two different pathways. It was really fun mapping it out… I am not sure if it helps me think differently, in a less linear fashion, or if it just panders to the mind’s natural inclination towards multiplicity. But this is my first paper run through….

Anyway, I am not sure whether it is such a bad thing to have ones thoughts marshalled into straight lines by PowerPoint or Keynote. Something about Prezi does scream ‘Big Fat Gimmick!’, but let’s enjoy the whizz bang fireworks while they last.

Because I hate decontextualised slides so much (one of the greatest dangers to academic discourse today, I’ll venture, is the proliferation of mute online slideshows, stripped of the only thing which gives them a life) I have recorded a run through with commentary so you know what all the pictures mean. It’s forty minutes condensed into twenty, so it’s both too long to watch online and not long enough to make any sense. Apologies for the mumble, everyone else is asleep and I really ought to be myself.

Parallel Learning: How online teacher development informs classroom practice from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I made this using iShowU HD, which works very nicely. Screentoaster also seems good, but a bit more obtrusive.

If you were at either of the sessions in Kyoto, thanks! Questions or comments are very welcome.

download here

an interview with kip cates from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Kip Cates is an English teacher based in Japan but with an interest in collaborating with teachers and learners across Asia and the rest of the world. Just over twenty years ago, he founded the Global Issues in Language Education (GILE) SIG in JALT to help network with likeminded global educators.

Kip was representing his SIG at the PanSig conference, a yearly get together for members of the association special interest groups for cross-pollination. This year, we met in Osaka. In this interview Kip and I discuss the Asian Youth Forum, what global education is, why it is important and how technology can facilitate it, and Kip’s own experiences in Europe as a young man. We didn’t have time for the peace boat, Temple University or life in the Middle East! Maybe we can do a part two some day….

Kip’s website is at

This is my first simultaneous podcast and video release. You have a choice of formats today!

I recently read and enjoyed Jason Renshaw’s post about teacher silence in class, and thought I’d try it out myself. I have a class of students who are all very smart and engaging young people, but perhaps a little too relaxed. Most of them know enough English to do what they want to do…. which isn’t always what I ask them to do. They enjoy each others company and sometimes fall too easily into passing time in Japanese. We are using a challenging textbook which (I think) is interesting – Face the Issues, a book based around NPR interviews and news stories, authentic and quirky English. This class focused on the second half of unit three. The class meets twice a week for 90 minutes, and also attend Reading and Writing classes with other teachers. It (should be) a lot of English.

The remainder of this blog post follows Jason’s example, and has been posted on the student’s blog as a report of what happened. I hope that some of the students who participated in this class will come along and comment themselves.


I started today’s class at 9:20 by projecting this message on the screen at the front of the class.

Today, you are going to take responsibility for your own learning. I am not in charge of today’s class. We will work on pages 38 -44 of the textbook. The CD and the CD player are at the back of the room if you want to use them. Please make your own groups, and decide which parts of the book you want to study. And how you want to study them.

 Of course, you will use English to do this.

Thank You.

At first, everyone looked a little surprised, but it didn’t take long before the students formed groups of four… and within ten minutes, everybody was talking in English comfortably. At 9:32 the first group moved to the back of the class and used the CD player to check their answers in the pronunciation section. It seemed that each group was working through the book exercises in order, and also following the instructions in the book directly. Why was that? By 9:40 there was a really nice buzz.

By 9:55, most students were on to the discussion section, and some started listening to the NPR recording to take notes and prepare for the case study on pages 42 – 44. This was one of the biggest challenges for me – one group had difficulty finding the right track on the CD, but rather than doing it for them, I let them do it themselves. It’s hard to let go as a teacher!

By 10:30, students were talking actively about the topic, although I tried not to walk around as much as usual, to remove myself as a presence from the class. At 10:35, I projected this message on to the screen.

How did you feel at the start of the class?

Did you speak more or less English than usual today? Why?

Did your group have a particular style?

How did you choose what and how to do, and when to move to the next part?

Would you like to study this way more often?

What were the best and worst things about today’s class? Why?

Do you need a teacher?

To finish the class, I showed this message. I didn’t say anything at all – not a single word – all class.

Please leave your homework and your attendance card on my desk.

Please do page 46, exercise II (vocabulary) before Friday’s class. Visit the blog, too. I will write more about today’s lesson and I would like to read your comments.

In Friday’s class, I will probably talk to you again ; P

So, what did you think? Comments welcome!


I very much enjoyed the recent ‘ten blogs’ deal doing the blogosphere rounds, and I also love the monthly round ups that Shelly Terrell and Karenne Sylvester (and others) often do, but I got to thinking about all those other blog posts that are going to waste….

Maybe they appeared before the blog took off. Maybe they were eclipsed by an important event or meme, or perhaps they just didn’t catch the eye in the google reader as they passed by. There is a whole library of great writing and thinking out there which, for whatever reason, has been missed.

So, how about some homework for the weekend?

1. Have a look through the archives of your favourite bloggers. You can usually find archives in the sidebar, click a tag or category, or search for keywords in a search box.

2. Find a piece you like but haven’t noticed before and leave a comment.

3. Link to it on your blog, or tweet it.

What do you think?

These are mine….

Vicki Hollett is always interesting, and I love to read what she has to say whenever she comments elsewhere, too. This one about compliments is facsinating – particularly the advice for Asian students.

English Raven has been going long enough to accumulate a sizeable archive, and Jason seems to be haring along at quite a clip lately…. a new one every day. I liked this one as I have been thinking lately about the effects of personal circumstances on teacher development.

Someone else who has no off switch is Alex Case. He very helpfully republishes lists of his own favourites from time to time, but I want to know if you are past your TEFL peak  like I am.

The aforementioned Karenne is yet another prolific blogging superstar, and I had plenty of fun browsing the back catalogue of Kalinago English. This one compelled me to respond… never mind the width, feel the quality.

Over to you, and have a fun weekend’s pottering! I’m off to Osaka for the JALT PanSig conference… interviews, tweets and reports to follow.

It really isn’t that hard to learn how to teach. Or should I say, a teacher can be trained to stand in a classroom without making an absolute idiot of themselves within about a week, from a standing start. For something which is only actually relevant for a very small proportion of a teacher’s career, training seems to generate a disproportionate amount of discussion.  The pre-service teacher or the teacher spending the first few months in the classroom needs to be drilled in ‘the fundamentals’*, but beyond that the teacher is largely in need of development rather than training **. Guidance or mentoring from senior staff, advice and hints from colleagues in the staff room, encouragement from peers in formal or informal communities – development rarely takes place alone, but it is often initiated and directed alone. After the first year or two this often becomes a practical necessity, but I suspect is also what most of us prefer.

As so many of us plan our own professional pathways, we need to know what we are aiming at. Something of which we are infrequently reminded is that we will stumble off the path on a fairly regular basis. Teachers fail. For example.

A new class is misjudged early in the course and the teacher gets stuck in a cycle of student demotivation.

A teacher changes context (new institution, new country, new…) and finds his or her hard-won expertise meaningless.

After attempting to implement too many innovations, a teacher burns out with exhaustion.

Many longitudinal studies by mainstream education specialists and sociologists have followed teachers to identify developmental patterns and life cycles. ELT has its own too, notably Rose Senior’s “The Experience of Language Teaching“. This blog has been up for nine months now, and I have been promising a review of the book after which it is named – Michael Huberman’s “The Lives of Teachers“, a study of 160 secondary school teachers in Switzerland. If you were at IATEFL 2010 you will know that Tessa Woodward has done the job for me. If you weren’t, or you missed the plenary, or something, you really ought to watch it here.

What I particularly like about Huberman’s study is its recognition of failed outcomes, dead ends and dangerous trajectories. Self-doubt, personal crisis, lassitude, disenchantment, apathy… all possible or even likely stages in the life of a teacher. Stability can be rewarded with stagnation, rather than harmony and satisfaction. Expertise is not a permanent state, and teachers can easily slip back to previous stages of development. Everyone ends in disengagement. If you are lucky, it is serene. If not, bitter.

These are not the little failures of the novice who forgets to set up a listening, or speaks too quickly, or doesn’t know how to field an unexpected question. After a time (and given a full teaching schedule) such mechanical issues are resolved and many of the processes of teaching become automatised. If they don’t, this may spark a crisis, not uncommon after the first two years of teaching. In ELT the teacher/tourist may quit before reaching either proficiency or crisis – without, even, the concepts crossing his or her mind….

For those who continue in the profession, and reach a certain level of expertise, the next danger area is in the eight to ten year bracket. Stagnation, exhaustion or a full-blown existential crisis are all possibilities. The potential stimuli for difficult periods change as one goes through life as a teacher, but are always there.

If you are new to the profession, or in a sticky patch at the moment, I apologise. But this post is not supposed to be a negative one (or a patronising one). My point (via Huberman) is that by accepting the inevitability of difficulties, by being aware of the danger zones in the career cycle and how particular vulnerabilities manifest themselves, we have a far greater chance of reducing their impact, getting through them more quickly, and perhaps (just perhaps) avoiding them altogether.

“The teacher who had not experienced one or more difficult periods in his career was very rare…. In effect, the ‘fickle’ nature (of triggers) meant that teaching moments of exhilaration are just as fragile and ephemeral as moments of distress…. ” (p. 257)

Or shall we say, the distress is just as ephemeral as the exhilaration?


* Although even this can be approached in a more self-directed fashion. A nice link here with Tessa Woodward, too – the unplugged CELTA concept has a flavour of loop input to me.

** This refers largely to EFL or ESL teachers, who I believe are largely responsible for their own development from the very beginning – financially and practically. If we consider postgraduate degrees or diplomas to be formalised development rather than training, then I can only count five weeks of training in ten years of my own career. However, I would be interested to hear from UK ESOL, which I understand to have a much more standardised system as part of mainstream education. I would also love to know about training programmes in larger institutions such as International House and the British Council.

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This is the audio version of my video interview with Hayo earlier this year.

I’m by no means a gamer*, but I was fascinated to hear Hayo address the question ‘Do computer games really contribute to language learning?’ as keynote speaker at the 4th International Wireless Ready Symposium in Nagoya, Japan. The answer? They can, but…..

I meant to ask a little more about the institutional obstacles to success in incorporating technology into language learning. One thing Hayo alluded to in his talk was the difficulty in controlling who and what learners come into contact with in the online world. Here in Japan the age of majority is twenty, so technically many of my students are still children! My personal preference would be to give them a little training in online ’smarts’ and let them free, but I realise life is not so simple and that we have a duty of care. How should we approach this problem, then? Do you think fears about security / ‘bad’ language / inappropriate content are justified? Or that firewalls and filters just end up shackling us?

It was great to finally meet Dr. Reinders and he gives a great interview here, despite being on a nine-hour time difference from his home in London. I first came across his work when I started looking into self-access learning and learner autonomy, and we discussed these topics too. For all things ‘Reinders’ I recommend his website “Innovation in Teaching”. As well as many, many fine articles you can find a clip of Hayo on Pakistani breakfast television…..

*apart from ‘Urban Dead’, but that’s more about my love for zombies than my love for computer games

Download here

This is a podcast version of the video interview available here.

If you have ever taught children, you may well have come across the ‘Let’s Go!‘ series, now on the third edition and a multimedia behemoth! I met with Barbara, one of the authors, at the ETJ Chubu Expo in October 2009 and she was kind enough to give this interview. She is delightful company and I wish I’d left the camera running because we talked for as long again after I turned it off. She has a lot to say about teaching children and professional development in particular, but we also touched on a few other topics. If you haven’t already, you should check out Barbara’s blog and have a look for her on twitter (@barbsaka ). Being in this part of the world opportunities to meet members of the online ELT community are limited, so it is always especially enjoyable to catch up with someone as lovely as Barbara… even if it is only a few times a year ; D

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