These four walls…

There's a whole world outside. Trust me, you're not trapped! / Photo by Tim Pearce on flickr

This might come across as cliché to those of you who read this blog. I mean, one of the best things about blogs and twitter is that we are able to find people who are willing to share. This is the main advantage I can see in this “new” media. Many teachers do tell me that they can’t see why they should be on twitter, or that there’s no time to waste with it. I can even understand the time issue – I myself have been struggling with time this semester – and I do try my best to listen to and understand the reasons why people think this world of twitter and blogs is nothing but a fad and a waste of time. However, there’s one thing I cannot put up with – people who can’t listen to what others have to say. And it gets worse than that… but this is not a rant; a praise it is supposed to be. A praise to twitter, blogs and what it has got to offer to teachers.

This week, as I was teaching a lesson on approaches and methods in ELT to a group of post-graduation students, we finally got to the point of discussing The Lexical Approach and Dogme. This is the second time I teach this course, but it somehow feels different. A couple of years ago, when I first taught it, I wasn’t that involved with twitter and blogs, and the fact that I’ve joined this group has made a difference in the discussions I hold with the students. Someone said that these two tools have leveled the play field in the world of ELT. It certainly helped me to go beyond the world of academics and authors that I used to read before. Thornbury, Harmer, Puchta, Nunan, Ur, Meddings, and Brown (to name but a few) are still required reading, if you ask me. However, there are just so many other great people out there who can now be heard regardless of a publishing contract that it’s made our lives a lot easier. We can now read what Karenne Sylvester, Jason Renshaw, Shelly Terrell, Cecília Coelho, Willy Cardoso, Mike Harrison, David Warr, Dave Dodgson, Sabrina de Vita, Richard Whiteside, Sara Hannam, and many other people that know what they’re saying and whose posts are consistently good, have got to say. Maybe they were already part of your readings, but I only started reading these people after joining twitterville. Those were the days when publishers and editors chose who we had to read. But it’s done a lot more than merely allowing content to be spread and commented on.

On April 26, while I was talking to my students about Dogme and teaching unplugged, I couldn’t help but remember some of the activities that had been shared online by some of the bloggers I read. Among these activities, I briefly demonstrated Jason’s The Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge. Obviously, it generated some discussion in class and we started coming to some conclusions. “Oh, if only I could get Jason to participate in this class…” did cross my mind. However, as this was something that had sprung up out of a class discussion and I hadn’t really planned to have such a long discussion about these activities. A whole bunch of coincidences happened at this point. First, I had already talked to my students about both #eltchat and #breltchat. Second, it was a student’s birthday, and her friend had asked me if we could have a short break as she had bought a cake. During this short break, some of the students asked me again about twitter, and when I opened my tweetdeck, I saw that Jason had just tweeted something. I immediately tweeted him back, telling him that we were discussing one of his activities. Jason asked which activity we were discussing and this is what followed:!/englishraven/statuses/63040502202769409

We ended up having a fantastic skype session, as Jason was really kind to make an impromptu appearance in our class. This was absolutely amazing, as students had the chance to ask questions to the person who actually had written the text. If I could get Luke and Scott to skype while we were discussing about Dogme, Richards and Rodgers to talk about approaches and methods, and Harmer to discuss CLT, my job would pretty much be to bring the computer to class and call them on skype. 🙂

The four walls of any classroom have been brought down. Those were the days when the teacher was supposed to be the only one who knew everything in class. We can now share the load – it’s much easier to do what we preach. Get students to learn, not memorise. Get them to discuss points, to reflect. Invite other people to enrich the discussion. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to invite the person whose activity I was discussing at that very moment, and one whose knowledge I learned to respect. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The four walls around us no longer exist, but only as long as you don’t want them to exist. If your co-workers are not willing to discuss ELT issues in a way that fosters growth, never mind. Twitter has become the largest staffroom ever. Oh, and everyone there is willing to share, learn, and discuss. I’m sure you can learn how to use it effectively, and, once you do, you won’t regret it.

29 thoughts on “These four walls…

  1. Incredibly awesome from every aspect!
    Not only was that a great lesson academic-wise but you demonstrated what (as you said) many people aren’t open to hear: social media is bringing down those four walls!
    And you certainly mentioned fascinating educators whose blogs are worth following!

    1. Hi Naomi,

      If used properly, chances are social media will definitely help teachers develop. What I currently see is that, most of the times, it’s one teacher here and there that’s been using it for this purposes. Others tend to dismiss the idea out of hand as soon as they hear it. However, it’s a small world after all – and it’s getting smaller and smaller. The once isolated teachers are now able to find those who would like to share in other places as those who work with them seem to be unwilling. Are we the early-adopters, or is this just a fad? Regardless of what we think that’s likely to happen, most of us online are certainly taking advantage of the benefits social media has brought about.

      Those blogs are just a starting point! It’d just be way too hard to list them all! 🙂

  2. that’s just amazing, Henrick!
    That’s commendable attitude towards teacher education. I believe your trainee teachers get so much more once you tear down those walls and connect them to real people out there, like Jason, who are inspiring and humble in their actions. Although books are great, and I love reading the established authors of our field, blogs brought another dimension to our knowledge building that is just, I don’t even know the word… mind-blowing!

    Thanks for sharing this experience! I’m really happy to have read it today!
    And wow, thanks for including me among those great people, you know the feeling is mutual.

    1. Hi Willy,

      The trainees told me they absolutely loved the experience! Looking forward to having the chance to do it again with other teachers. Even though that’s a small class, it’s a small class of highly motivated teachers trying to improve. 🙂

      Your blog has long been on my RSS reader. Nowadays the list is huge, but I tried my best to come up with a good starting point! 🙂

    1. Hi Scott,

      Many thanks for your willingness to join! I got Jason probably really early in the morning there… in your case I guess it’d have to be on an occasion of insomnia for you to join this group in particular – we’re at GMT -3 and the class starts at 7:30 pm. It’s the very first time these trainees have heard of Dogme… they’d certainly have loads of questions on that. And I’d definitely love to chat about a couple of other things related to vocabulary acquisition and discourse analysis, for instance. 🙂

  3. Henrick, I also feel that Twitter has become the largest staffroom ever. Many of the lessons I planned during the teacher training course were based on resources recommended by some of the great people you’ve listed.

    I’ve come accross this post that was written in July 2009 and where the author addresses the importance of Twitter in her learning. I couldn’t agree more!

    1. Hi Cintia,

      It’s certainly become a pretty large staffroom packed with teachers who are very supportive and helpful. To be honest, even though I’ve read many things about the use of twitter and social media with students, and I do think it may work, I still believe teachers are the ones who can benefit the most from these social media sites such as twitter. If we just learn how to harness all it’s strength, it can be very effective. 🙂

  4. Great blog! I’ve only had twitter just under 2 weeks but I am totally sold on it! It’s great to be able to connect with like-minded people and discuss anything and everything ELT, and as you say to access so much useful information. Knowledge sharing is such a great thing. Especially for me, I am in a small city, in a language centre that doesn’t value outside opinions/methods or training or development (not for much longer, mind) and meanwhile the teachers figure they have learned how to teach and that’s that. So this virtual staffroom has been a breath of fresh air for me! 🙂

    1. Hi Lizzie,

      Oh, isn’t it just horrible when people think they’ve learned it all and that’s it? A friend of mine, Wallace Barbosa, always repeats this quote, “Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn.” Perhaps most teachers can’t afford to pay for a CELTA or a DELTA course, but there’s always something they can do to keep learning. It’s informal education, but the world of twitter and blogs can certainly contribute to our learning – many conversations taking place there, many opinions shared, and lots of learning taking place. Will it ever replace formal courses such as a CELTA, for instance? Unlikely, if you ask me. However, it’s a rather cheap way for you to learn A LOT and keep reflecting on your practices if you want to. 🙂

  5. Many people brag about how different their classes are after they’d taken their DELTA course. And I envy them (in a good sense, of course :-D) However, when such subject is brought up I talk about how different I am (not only my classes, but myself as a whole) after I’d joined twitter. Then, I get some despise looks. But that’s ok.
    Twitter is what brought me to meet great people and great educators. Everything started out so naturally that I felt I was being softly embraced by some sort of force beyond my imagination. I remember that the first person I followed was Shelly Terrell and then my world spun around. For days. Weeks. Months. Till I got conscious that on twitter I was accepted, that my ideas were welcome and more importantly people cared about helping and sharing.
    On twitter I met Raquel Oliveira, who is now my personal friend and is always up to whatever crazy ELT endeavor we might think of.
    On twitter I met you. Whom at first I thought was a foreigner but DM after DM I found to be a great passionate educator, a brilliant mind, a fervent supporter of Vasco and a good friend. Then came Cecilia whom I thought it was “my Cecilia” but she was miles away. I was miles ways of getting to know how clever and supportive she is.
    More than a testimonial this comment serves as a living proof for the discredited ones. And thank you for that!
    Bruno Andrade

    1. Hi Bruno,

      Most people who have learned how to use twitter properly for their professional development seem to have pretty much the same story to tell, and the same kind of despise looks from those who simply refuse to believe in anything that’s so untraditional. I recently tried talking about it with a Portuguese teacher, but he simply interrupted me after I’d said 3 or four words just to say he’d tried using twitter but abandoned it and would never go back as it was a waste of time. Twitter is such a great tool because you only get what you want – if you follow people who share good things, you’ll get good things in return, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. 🙂
      I still remember when we first talked, and when you found out I was not a foreigner – what a Brazilian name mine is, huh?! 🙂
      I’m really happy that you’ve been the driving force behind #breltchat. When we were mainly talking about it, you gave that push that we needed to get the ball rolling. And even though it’s been only three sessions so far, we managed to accomplish quite a lot already. All thanks to twitter. I guess it’s able to change many teachers’ classes, and help them get much better prepared to face that CELTA, DELTA, or MA course. 🙂

  6. Hello Henrick………I like your post so much as I felt trapped in these four walls for so long before I discover twitter. I am an ESL teacher and recently I become the supervisor of the English department in an ESL teaching center in Egypt. I was in a complete mess before I found out that I can have lots of friends who can provide me with resources and advice without even knowing me. However, I don’t know how I can convey my love and respect for twitter to other teachers. I want to share my experience with other teachers but they are not interested. I love twitter and appreciate all the efforts of ELT educators. Thank you guys 😉

    1. Hello Hend,

      You’re not alone in this quest to show co-workers the benefits of twitter for Professional Development. One of the best things about our field, ELT, is that we’ve learned the importance of sharing. Many teachers take part in teachers associations and absolutely love sharing what they have been doing in their classes. Even though I still like the atmosphere of a face-to-face conference and actually talking to people, it’s been twitter that’s saved me lately as I could not attend any of the conferences I wanted to.

      How to share it with your co-workers? Not an easy task, but simply go little by little, use the things you’ve learned from twitter. When someone asks you where you learned such a great activity, for instance, tell them it was on twitter (if that’s the case, obviously). Little by little they start noticing how much twitter has been helping you as a teacher in a way that it allows you to be in touch with teachers from all over the world who are there to share. When other teachers realise that, they might become slightly more interested to join. 🙂

  7. I really hope so Henrick I will go little by little as u said as I don’t want to push or pressure them. The idea is that I want them to feel the same pleasure I feel when I interact and share things via twitter. Sometimes I feel that they think I am crazy because I want to change things and add new methods to our teaching. They prefer the same old methods. They feel comfortable with them but I am not satisfied with that. A dreamer they call me:) do you think I am a dreamer because I want a change???!!!

  8. Hi Rick, as Willy said, it is wonderful to think you enjoy reading what I have to say, and for you to say so in public! The feeling is reciprocated, of course. It’s true what you said, twitter is the largest staffroom ever, with learning, discussion, fun and the occasional quarrel! To Hend: I agree with Rick, little by little. You have to prove to them, well, it has to be proved to them (i.e. without pushing) that there are advantages. For people to change, the new must be better and easier than the current way of doing things.

    1. Thank you for replaying David 🙂 I agree with you and Rick I stopped myself when I found that I am pushing the people around which will lead to the opposite result…instead, whenever they ask me “Where do you get these great things from?” I just say ” Via twitter”..this was Rick’s advice to me and it really worked 😉 Thank you guys for support…Using Mind maps in teaching English is a new thing for me so I will follow you and your beautiful blog to gain more information;)

    2. That’s the fun of it, right?! I mean, if it were not for the conversations that take place there, added to all the networking that’s made possible, it would have been long gone by now. It’s not THE magic solution to all problems, but it’s a very useful tool in helping finding the solution to some problems.

      I couldn’t put it better myself: “For people to change, the new must be better and easier than the current way of doing things.” 🙂

  9. I agree that twitter is a great way to keep up with the latest developments in ELT. I think it also depends on the teacher though. Keeping up and discussing new ideas in real time through a newish technological medium such as twitter can be quite daunting for some. Many teachers are still getting used to using the internet as a place to gather teaching resources! Jon.

  10. I’m sorry to come to this so late, Henrick! I’ve had quite a bit on and am in the process of some huge changes…

    I loved the Skype session. Your four walls came down, but brought down mine as well – how cool is that???

    I agree: if more of us could agree to collaborate and help, as often as possible in real time, it could be the organic spark plug that so many of us in teaching really need.

    Cheers mate,

    – Jason

    1. Hi Jason,

      I can imagine how busy you must be with all the things that changing jobs involve. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in a snap. 🙂

      I’ve already had another visitor to that very same class: Cecília Coelho – and who knows whether I can have more visitors. The time differences are always going to be an issue, but there are just so many people to participate that I’m sure this kind of thing could definitely be an addition to any class.



  11. How amazing for you to do this Henrik! I bet your students were so enriched by the discussion. I am always so amazed how Jason, Jeremy, Luke, Ken, and others who write such incredible books and materials are willing to Skype into classes. I was very fortunate to have Emma Herrod Skype with my classes a few times and she was just amazing. She even had her son skype with my YL classes! Great post about the power of ELT plns!

    1. Hi Shelly,

      They told me they loved it. And on the following class I could get Cecília online with them. And, yes, it’s amazing that these people who we never thought would have the time to skype are actually willing to do so. This is one of the best things about twitter and blogs – at least 90% of the people in our PLN are there because of all the sharing, helping and supporting that we can give to each one. This is exactly what has drawn me into twitter for good. It’s the largest staff room I’ve ever been to, and what an amazing group of educators it is. 🙂
      Perhaps next time I’ll be able to get you to skype with my class, huh?! 🙂

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