neon jesus

(My contribution to the #dogmeme, with advance apologies to Karenne Sylvester)

Teachers have a lot of people telling them what to teach, and how to teach it. Governments looking for cheap votes. Parents who want to abdicate themselves from the responsibility of raising their own children. Administrators who need to hit targets, meet budgets and check boxes. Publishers with units to shift. That is exactly why I engage in my own self-initiated professional development. When I visit conferences, talk to other teachers, blog, tweet, and do all that other stuff I want to hear what I could do. Or what I might do. Or what may, perhaps be worth thinking about. Sure, tell me what works for you…. but let me think about it and see if it works for me, please.

I am broadly sympathetic to the basic concepts of dogme. I certainly agree that coursebooks and pre-planned curricula built around grammar mcnuggets can be very restrictive, and that teachers should exploit emergent language, teaching affordances and other human unpredictables as best they can. I am not sure that this in itself constitutes a method, however… it is at best an approach. And if you are talking about the more rigorous, chaste versions of Dogme that might be called a method, then I am not really interested. I want to plug things in and interact with ideas from outside the classroom. I see it as equally restrictive to tie oneself to or deny yourself materials. This is the religious fervour to which I refer.

And as for the evangelism?  I believe that classroom methods are a negotiation (implicit or explicit) between the teacher, the learner (s), the context and the moment. For that reason, I believe that unplugged teaching has a very important role at the right time, with the right participants, in the right situation…. but it is not the only way. If I were teaching advanced adult learners in small classes in Europe, I imagine a techno-dogme hybrid would be fantastic. But actually, very, very few teachers, in the wider world of English Language Education, are teaching in such a context. In fact, very, very few know what Dogme is, or ever will. And we bloggers and tweeters, we conference goers, the movers and shakers, sometimes need to remind ourselves that we are not typical, that we are lucky to have some choice about how and what we teach. Teachers can be afraid, tired, confused, or just plain uneducated. Like students, they need nurturing, not hectoring. So let’s not assume that anyone who doesn’t teach Dogme is too self-interested, too stupid or too lazy to try it.

Is ignorance always a sin?

When Karenne Sylvester wrote recently about the frequency of blogging, on Janet Bianchini’s blog it made me think. Initially, I disagreed… I would rather have an occasional, top quality read than a regular second rate one. But then I realised that some bloggers are delivering frequent, good quality content. Shorter, maybe, but good quality nonetheless. Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. I also notice that there has been quite a slowing down in my google reader of late.  Although the hardy veterans (Alex Case, Karenne herself, Jason Renshaw and a few others) are plugging away giving us the good stuff, many of the second and third waves of bloggers certainly seem to be posting less.  Is this seasonal? My June and early July are pretty hectic, in this is reflected in my posting frequency. Now I’m in the lull between last classes and exam marking, so I’ve had time to write a little more (although no one read my magnificent archetypes piece… a real labour of love, that one!).

Does it indicate the fading of the flame, a natural burn off after the initial spark of enthusiasm?

I have a slew of interviews lined up (and these are very much the centre of this blog – anything I write myself is to fill the gaps in between) but I also want to stock up for the busy months ahead. I have a long, lazy summer planned… plenty of time to work like a blogging ant! How about you? Do you have anything in the tank? Are you getting tired of blogging? Or do you just want to kick back and recharge your batteries for a couple of months?

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.

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.

I got tagged by Jason at the wonderful English Raven as a part of the “It’s worth taking a look at this blog”  thing which is doing the rounds. It’s quite a timely initiative, with the ELT blogosphere a little bit tired and emotional recently. Nice to share the love again. Had I decided to do this straight, Jason’s blog would certainly have been in my top ten… but I am pretty sure that anyone who is reading my blog is reading his. I really do recommend all the blogs in my blogroll – none are there for show, they are the ELT blogs I regularly read, and often comment on. So my list is made up of the twenty one blogs in my blog roll. Can I call that my ‘trad’ list, and then give you something a little more wonky?

Here is a list of ten blogs you probably don’t read…

I’ll kick off with the two who are blogging most specifically about ELT. What I like about them both is that they are writing fairly specifically about the minutiae of classroom activity. A lot of ELT bloggers like to address the ‘big’ issues, but I love to read about the daily concerns of practising teachers. Eisensei is working in Japanese universities, like me. This post is an account of his experiments with dogme, part of a journey which I am really enjoying watching and (to a small degree) participating in. Rich is in Spain, and his writing is quite affecting. I love this pithy piece about online community.

Now three bloggers who teach English, but don’t really blog about it. ELT does seem to attract the creative, or perhaps it makes one creative? Maybe once people realise that the life of a TEFLer is a precarious one, they invest more in their lives outside work. There are plenty of us who do it because it’s all we can do, because it enables us to live where we want, because it offers us little and expects little in return, leaving us free to pursue our passions. For every one of us who defines themselves as a teacher, there is another who ‘teaches’… but is actually a writer, a photographer, an entrepreneur…

I am sure that all three of these bloggers are committed and talented teachers. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to read about the other things they love. Pig Sty Avenue is currently learning the piano, but also writes a lot about football and photography. This is a rare piece about teaching, and an initiative which needs to get off the ground. Scribe of Light is an incredible photographer working mainly in China, who I first came across via Flickr. This piece, about itchy feet, will resonate with many of you world travelling teachers out there. And finally, I have actually had the pleasure of meeting the author of Troutfactory Notebook, another brilliant photographer and writer, based in Osaka. This piece on the soapbox derby is a dazzling example of his thought-provoking writing about art and ideas.

There are a few news blogs I read regularly. The first is Mashable, which you may be familiar with, collecting techie, social media type stuff. This one on David Letterman’s Twitter Machine is a lot of fun. For an alternative take on the mainstream news, for the stuff that falls through the cracks, Global Voices Online is a great resource. I enjoyed this recent post about the new company recruits here in Japan. And speaking of Japan, Education in Japan does a great job in gathering stories together without editorialising (and without the awful, awful comments you often get on Japan News blogs). Everything you need to know about the collapse of the GEOS language school chain is here.

I have long been an admirer of George Siemens, and he is a very prolific blogger about education and (of course) connectivism. His blog is like a fat twitter. Libraries is a nice spot to start. And if you like that, there are about eight years of archives, updated several times daily….

I have now idea how to categorise the last one, but I love it. Pull Up the Roots bills itself as “a visual essay exploring teaching, learning, and society”, and it utilises the tumblr platform perfectly. My first blogging experiments came via tumblr, when I noticed a lot of my flickr photos were being linked there. If you can imagine a twitter for visual artists, designers, and the painfully young and hip, that’s tumblr. Even though I am none of those things, I love tumblr!

So, thanks Jason. And it’s a nice idea, but can we shake it up a bit? I am pretty sure that the ELT blogosphere has been sufficiently mapped. I’d like everyone to do this again, but actually surprise me 😉

Too tired to write anything thought provoking or challenging today… the new semester has started and I am full of the joys of actually TEACHING.. meeting new students, putting into practice all the improvements I’ve been dreaming up over the last couple of months. I’ll tell you more when I get time, but for today, just to tide you over, something I’ve been saving up for a rainy day.

Blogging is a wonderful thing, they said. You have to do it, build your PLN, make connections, be the teacher you can be, they shouted. What nobody said was “Spend hours cleaning out spam”. But, for health chuckles, here are a few of the ones I actually enjoyed.

The Non-Sequitur

Money is so intangible, its almost like a promise and a piece of paper

Its all in the manual they make you read before they download your being into those tiny bodies in those dark wombs

Hi First time skipped here on your site, found on Google. Thank you for the advice, I spoke with my girlfriend, and she agreed. We have spoken about it now, and it is slowly getting better

The Back-Handed Compliment

Good post, however only some of the points were actually treated really good, I think digging deep for the topic to make it more informative will really help, will be looking forward for more informative post than this. Will suggest some points which are to the best of my knowledge. This might help you bringing more information for all of us

It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place

Not bad article, but I really miss that you didn’t express your opinion, but ok you just have different approach

Happened across your post while searching through yahoo. I understand the very first paragraph and its fantastic! I don’t have time to finish it now, but I have bookmarked your web page and will study the rest tonight

I was searching for a solution to my problem. This doesn’t solve my problem but it helped me somehow

The Odd Request

Could you please translate your site into Italian since I’m not so comfortable reading it in English?

I like that, (or rather, those bits I could easily read). I am afflicted with color blindness (tritanopia to be exact) and a lot of your web page is a bit of a strain on my eyes. I know it is my problem to deal with but it would be kind if you would take into account color blind visitors while doing the next web page re-working.

The Superlative

Simply, the information is truly the greatest on this worthwhile topic. I with your conclusions and will desperately look forward to your upcoming updates. Expressing thanks will not be sufficient, for the exceptional clarity in your writing.

Got any favourites of your own, my fellow bloggers? Or, even better, some teaching ideas to put them to work?

And just in case you don’t know why spam is called spam….

Personal Learning Networks – the what, why and how from darren elliott on Vimeo.

A presentation at the 4th International Wireless Ready Symposium, Nagoya, February 19th 2010.

A good starting point for twitter. I’ve made a list of ELT professionals and educational technologists worth following… there are many more out there too, but these might get you started. Don’t forget to include a decent bio in your profile so that potential followers know you are a real person, not just a robot, a pornographer or a marketeer.

The reading and research for this presentation can be found on my diigo social bookmarking page – the PLN list and tags should yield most. I particularly recommend the works of Warlick, Downes and Seimens (all of whom are on the twitter list, too)

There are some great listservs in yahoo groups. I’ll start you off with the webheads group, and follow with ELT dogme. Both very different, but very lively. A tip – set to receive a daily digest.

If you are looking for blogs, onestopblogs has a good selection. Choose the ones you like, put them in your google reader… tweeters on twitter may have blogs of their own, check the profiles.

If you want something more involved, join a ning! Bloggers in ELT is a favourite of mine, Classroom 2.0 is very active.

But your Personal Learning Network should be just that  –  PERSONAL. Take your time building relationships with real people, don’t be afraid to turn off or cut out when things become distracting rather than helpful, and have fun!

“Oh, it must be wonderful to be educated. What does it feel like?”

“It’s like having an operation,”  said Treece. “You don’t know you’ve had it until long after it’s over”

(Eating People is Wrong – Malcom Bradbury)

Isn’t that true? Aren’t the best learning experiences the ones which you have time to absorb, reflect upon, digest? Perhaps the ones which click into place a year later, ten years later? What worries me is that we no longer have time to reflect. If an afternoon with a good book is a long look in a full-length mirror, is the internet a glimpse caught in a shop window on a pell-mell dash through a shopping mall? Maybe I strangled that metaphor…..

But it seems to be something of a ‘meme’ in the twitterverse / blogosphere at the moment. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but noticed others pop up with the same message over the last week or two. Maybe a lot of people are reaching the same point at the same time. There’s a very nice little graphic (and post) from Jeff Utecht which shows the stages of Personal Learning Network adoption.

Cresting that wave now, I think.

Alex Case asked me a couple of questions in his recent interview which I think are pertinent. The first was (a tongue in cheek) query as to whether I wanted to become the next Scott Thornbury. Well, the reason someone like Scott Thornbury becomes an ELT superstar (stop sniggering at the back) is through quality work over many years. His online presence is another outlet for that. Alex then asked “Do you think it is still worth getting published on paper?” The phrasing itself gives away his feeling, perhaps. But I absolutely think it is… and I worry that the amount of time I spend online is detracting from “real” research, “real” reading and “real” writing.

Bear in mind that I am blogging this, and I will tweet my new blog post, and I understand the irony in that. I have commented on several other blogs today, and got a great deal out of reading them. But I’ll just finish with this second quote from a book I am reading and enjoying at the moment…

“Well, that’s the lot of people like us. We abstract ourselves from the sphere of national effectiveness. We’re too busy taking notes to do anything… and the fault lies precisely in the things we value most”

So, are we all wasting our time? Deposit kickings in the comments box below and regular, classroom based discussion will resume soon.

A presentation at the Japan Association of Language Teachers conference in Shizuoka,  21/11/2009.

Choosing the technology that works for you! from darren elliott on Vimeo.

You can download a copy of the handout here. I’d love to hear your feedback on the presentation itself or, better, any of the technology you are using. How do you check out whether it’s right for you or not? Any questions I missed? Have I neglected issues important in your context?

Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto Interview from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Barbara is an EFL materials writer, teacher and teacher trainer working mainly with children in Japan. This interview was conducted for the lives of teachers website at

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, today at the ETJ Chubu Expo, and she was kind enough to give this interview. As you can see, 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. Thanks Barbara, I hope to see you again soon!