Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Saturday, 20 October 2012


"Death by Powerpoint" is a phrase that everyone who has  a career in teaching is only too aware of.  The amount of erroneous, unnecessary and downright horrific meetings and conference plenaries and keynotes we are all expected to sit and "enjoy" boggle the mind.  They visit schools and head-up conferences then roll out the Microsoft text-laden and corporate-based presentation slideshows to extremely bored, disengaged and utterly fed up audiences all over our teacher-world. 
So, when I started to present regularly at conferences I wanted to make sure that my own presentations followed some basic principles to avoid the ppp-grim-reaper: dynamic images, and little or no text that followed the concept that less is better on the screen.  I came across www.prezi.com, which had some impact on me, but that also got complaints from audiences because it was too motion-friendly and very distracting.  As a presenter, I personally felt that prezi was also just a pain in the neck due to very time consuming presentation prep.  Then the brilliance of Microsoft's office suite came alive, and turned it all around for me with Office 2010.  The updated version far outweighs its predecessors, and hopefully 2013 can take it even further for innovative tools, add-ons and great outcomes.  However, I am writing this in response to general presentation pitfalls we all should try to resolve.  It could act as a starting point for teachers, students and unfortunately, presenters as well. 

There is no excuse for bad presentations anymore, and below I offer some suggestions of how we as teachers can start to eliminate bad ppp practices if we follow some fundamental steps, and educate ourselves first, then our students, so future generations of audiences can enjoy going to conferences, meetings, lessons and allow us all to watch decent presentations.

  •  Don't assume your students even know how to make a powerpoint.
Far too many teachers are unsure themselves about how to use the technical aspect of the tool.  Therefore, they hope that when the students get up in front of them that everything will be fine.  We must go through several scaffolded steps to highlight what is bad, and what is good for the audience.

  • Show the students what it is that makes a bad powerpoint.
Students tend to take everything they have brainstormed, researched or written down in class, and simply cut n paste it on to the slides.  We need to teach them about paraphrasing, summarizing, important points and the message they want to relay.
  •   Do not read at length from the slides.
This  has to be the most annoying, irritating and practice-for-boredom aspect of all bad presentations.  Since when did people actually think we like being read to as adults or teens for that matter?  Since when was it possible to read faster to someone than to let them read by themselves? If you do need to read slides and slides of bullet points and extensive prose, you really are unsure of what it is you are saying. Print off and distribute to the audience so they can read later.  If they don't, it means the information wasn't important to them in any case, and you could have saved yourself the trouble!

  • Make what you are saying extremely visual and legible
The correct size of an image, or the best font for the subject matter is also really important.  So many times I have seen students put text on top of a busy image, thus making it impossible to read.  That is very frustrating for the audience.  The full use of the slide is also important, so move the image up, down or to either side, and place the text there.  It is also very affective to leave parts of the slide blank.  Have you ever watched an Apple presentation or video?

  • Direct them to Google images.  
So much of what is being presented can be shown in a picture.  The need for text outside facts, figures and highlighted information can be told better with an image.  This then acts for a springboard to more verbal exposition.  ESL teachers can promote this as beneficial for practice in L2 to their students.
  • Recommend the use of video embedded in the slides. 
Now with YouTube pumping an insane amount of videos for everyone to use, it seems daft not to use them.  For impact, a hook, and general respite from yammering, video certainly fits the bill.
  • Students practise and prepare well before hand.
The need for better preparation is the bane of all students, and it is something we must focus on as teachers.  Otherwise, the 3 minutes deteriorates into a babbling and confused stuttery mess.  Not to mention, the learning outcomes are seriously undermined for the self-confidence of the students and future presentations.

These SEVEN fundamentals for scaffolding in the classroom can lead to better and more enjoyable presentations for everyone.  There are hundreds of lists showing the DOs and DON'Ts of presentations.  This list is no different in its message: Make your audience interested and engaged.

I would like to end this short blog post with one of the funniest videos ever, of a very bad presentation.  The presenter does everything wrong, that a presenter could do,  And this is without a powerpoint.  Perhaps, if he were to have used one, he would have had a better time of it...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Video Fridays on Blendspace

Showing videos in class has such a negative reputation in education. I recently watched the unbelievably awful film, Bad Teacher, with Cameron Diaz. In typical Hollywood fashion, Diaz shows up to school on the first day of the year hungover. She walks into the classroom and directly proceeds to turn on a film for the students to watch. She doesn't give any instructions or objective to the kids, just slumps on the teacher's desk and goes to sleep.

For certain, there have been numerous scenes in films showing bad teaching practices over the years. Ben Stein's scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off is an absolute classic. Nonetheless, we cannot blame Hollywood for tarnishing the video in class paradigm because, honestly, teachers do it themselves. Far too many times, I have seen students watching videos or films without any objective or outcomes besides the teacher getting some rest and relaxation.

This post is about how we can improve the reputation of short videos in the classroom through an activity that we call Video Fridays. In a nutshell, every Friday we show a short video to our students. These videos range from 30 seconds to a maximum of 5 minutes, and there is a different topic each week. Some of them include the reemergence of talent shows, greed, the environment, the negative aspects of technology, just to name a few. We generally find the videos on Youtube, and then we prepare a tutorial on Blendspace with a major focus on essential questions, or 'Why' questions.  We create questions about the video that will personalize it for our students and then lead them to think more critically about the message. When class time arrives, we simply open the tutorial, and the video and questions are all in one place. We watch the video, have a discussion, and finally the students write about the video and essential questions over the weekend on Penzu.

While to some, this activity may seem like an escape from the normal curriculum of grammar and novels, we can assure you it is not. There are several educational benefits behind it. The first is that you can explore different themes and topics than the readers that you are using in your program. You could show short videos about what is going on in the world today, so that your students will be aware of current events, especially ones that might have an affect on them.  Secondly, the short videos will without doubt lead to a lively conversation in the classroom.  As long as the rules of respect are set out beforehand, your students will greatly benefit from voicing their own opinions, as well as listening to others.  Furthermore, as the leader and facilitator of the classroom, your prepared essential, or 'Why', questions will lead your students to think more critically about what's happening in the videos.  Finally, if, like us, you choose to give a writing assignment over the weekend about the video, it will, of course, lead to an improvement in your students' writing skills.  The picture to the left shows an actual student's writing at the beginning of the year compared to the progress she made by the end.


The following steps explain how we go about preparing the videos for the classroom.  It begins with how we choose videos to how we introduce them to the students.

Step 1: Find a video on Youtube or any other source, such as Vimeo, that provides a message or controversial topic to talk about.  Again, the video should never be any longer than 5 minutes, or your students might begin to see the activity as just 'watching a video'.  The video should just be a springboard to get the conversation and critical thinking going.

Step 2: Make a video tutorial Blendspace, which is an extremely easy-to-use website that allows you to create video tutorials in a snap.  Once you register for a free account, click on the large blue button on your home screen.  You will see that Blendspace tutorials are divided into boxes.  

Our suggestion for creating a video tutorial is as follows:

In box 1, we include an engaging image to give our students an idea of what the video is about.  Images are not absolutely necessary, but it makes your video tutorial more attractive and engaging for your audience. Plus, on Blendspace, it only take a few seconds as there is a Google Images and Flickr tabs on the right side of the screen.  Simply type in your topic in the search field, and drag your chosen picture into one of the boxes.

Then in box 2, we provide a short introduction to the video.   

In box 3, we include the video.  Again, by using the Youtube tab on the right side of the screen, search for a video, and just drag it over into the box.

In box 4, we write up some comprehension, or 'surface' questions to help the students follow along. These questions typically focus on the setting, characters, and what is happening in the video.

Then in box 5 we include another image, and in box 6, arguably the most important part, we come up essential questions that try to lead the students to understanding the message of the video. These questions are going to be the basis for the class discussion and weekend writing homework for the students.  These questions should always be open-ended as you want the students to form an opinion and their own comments about the video.  You should always shy away from 'Yes/No' questions.

Step 3: When class time arrives, open your video tutorial, and introduce the topic to your students.  You can certainly have a short discussion at this point about what the students think the video is about.  Next, watch the video, and, if needed, help students along by stopping the video and asking questions about what's going on.  After that, have a class discussion and make notes on the IWB of what is talked about. Take a picture of these notes and upload them to your PLN, such as Edmodo, if available.

Step 4: In addition, post the Blendspace tutorial to your PLN, so that the students can watch the video again over the weekend, as well as review the questions for they need to answer in their writing.

Below is the PowerPoint video that we show to our students to introduce the concept of Video Fridays at the beginning of the academic year.

Video Fridays, in all honesty, have been a real success in our ESL program.  We purposely choose videos that we know will be engaging and thought-provoking for the students, as well as giving them something new and different to write about each week.  For instance, at the end of the year, our students present us with their three favorite aspects of the program, and one of the most-talked about items was Video Fridays.  It truly showed us that if you place and consistently adhere to a structure, that showing short videos in the classroom can be a huge benefit for any program.