#ELTpics – 100 Up!

#ELTpics has just turned 100. Not years, but sets.  The current set or theme is ‘Spot The Difference’ (16 Feb-1 Mar), in which contributors are being asked to send in two similar photos which have slight differences. Previous sets include adjectives, bookshelves, contrasts and ‘Things I see every day’.  For the latest set, photos should ideally be positioned together as one image for ease of future use in the classroom, although this is not essential.  It is proving to be very popular, giving contributors the chance to be creative with their imagery.  Some are taking pictures which are seconds apart, while others are taking images from the same place on entirely different days.

Flickr Sets – 21 out of 100

#ELTpics, the Flickr-based photo sharing ready-made resource for language teachers, was launched in October 2010 when three teachers, Victoria Boobyer (at that time a teacher in Vietnam), Carol Goodey (Adult Literacies & ESOL Worker in Community Learning and Development with a local authority in Scotland) and Vicky Loras (a teacher in Switzerland and co-founder of The Loras Network) decided to start tweeting pictures to each other theme on a given theme.  In Spring 2011, two more curators, Fiona Mauchline and Sandy Millin, joined the team. As of today’s date, 20 February 2014, there are well over 16,000 collected photos, which are grouped by sets.  Any one photo might be placed in more than one set.  Every two weeks teachers and other folks in ELT are invited to take and share photos on a given theme.  This theme is publicised on Facebook and Twitter by the curators, which are now Victoria – @elt_pics, Fiona – @fionamau, @JulieRaikou and @mkofab – using the hashtag #eltpics.

The conditions placed on photos being uploaded and shared were – and continue to be – that photos must be the photographers’ own, they must be ‘live’ rather than computer graphics, and any recognisable person appearing as the subject in a photo must have given their consent.  All of the photos are free to use under a creative commons licence.  That is, you must give appropriate credit and it needs to be for non-commercial purposes, such as for use in the classroom.  If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same licence as the original.

As well as the Flickr resource, there is a blog called ‘Take a photo and…”, maintained by #ELTpics’ gatekeeper, Fiona.  This is an ideas site for how to use the uploaded images.  For example, this post is about creating #ELTpics mosaics, possibilities and modal auxiliary verbs.  It also suggests ways of using two similar, but slightly different photos, which is useful for the 100th theme/set, ‘Spot the Difference’. Another blog which focuses on a series of interviews with contributors and ran for one year is here.

Image: @HanaTicha

Image: @HanaTicha

The resource was the topic of two #ELTchat discussions on 30 May 2012, for which Shaun Wilden wrote a summary and one year later – 29 May 2013, with a summary written by Lizzie Pinard.

Fiona and Victoria take turns in doing promotional stuff for the resource, including a 30 minute session given in May 2013 at the 6th Virtual Web Conference. You can view that session here.

#ELTpics was also shortlisted for an ELTons award for innovation in teacher resources in 2013.  It was previously nominated for best group blog and best Twitter hashtag in the 2011 Edublog awards.

Wait - Spot The Difference - by @harrisonmike

‘Wait’ – Spot The Difference – by @harrisonmike, remixed by @teacherphili

To date, I have mostly used #ELTpics when I want to illustrate something I have written about for a blog post or #ELTchat summary.  For the summary on ‘How to teach Spelling’, for example, I used eight images from the ‘Things that look like letters’ set – see below.  I have, so far, only used #ELTpics once in my own teaching, on a pre-sessional course last summer, when I created a mosaic of buildings in different parts of the world, from the ‘Important Buildings’ set.  I know that the resource is a wonderful place to get interesting, copyright-free images from fellow professionals, which can be used, adapted or remixed as needed.

Spelling Montage Remixed

Spelling Montage Remixed – originals by @sandymillin @mk_elt @Senicko @gemmateaches

Interview with Victoria Boobyer

To mark the appearance of the 100th set, Fiona Mauchline suggested I write this post and that I contact Victoria Boobyer, the only original founder still actively involved, for an interview about this ongoing resource, now in its fourth year.

  • Why did you start #ELTpics along with Carol and Vicky?

Well, we were sending each other photos of everyday things from Vietnam, Scotland and Switzerland via Twitter anyway… and it soon became clear that we had the makings of a really nice resource for teachers.  The next logical step was to involve other teachers via the hashtag #eltpics

  • The project seems to be an all-girl thing – the ‘#ELTpics chicks’ I have heard it called.  Is there a deliberate policy or reason behind that?

‘Chicks’ really?  It’s just happened that way.  We put out a call for volunteers when it was becoming too much for me to manage as I was taking my Delta. It so happened women replied. Then as others have become busy for short periods (i.e. Sandy volunteering at the Olympics and doing her own Delta) further women volunteers stepped in.

  • How many photos have now been uploaded in total to the #ELTpics Flickr page?

I’ve just uploaded the 16,894th.  Which was one of yours, Phil. 🙂

  • What is your favourite set and why?

This is one of those tricky questions.  I’ll always like ‘Water’ as it was our first set, but I think in terms of a teaching resource, I love ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’. Each picture is an instant activity really because teachers have taken the pictures and have seen the potential and this potential will be seen by other teachers.  Even if you start by asking, ‘What story does this picture tell?’ it’s a great language producing activity.

  • Is there a set idea that you have had but have so far not used for practical or other logistical reasons?

We started but have had to be really careful with the PARSNIPS (things you wouldn’t usually find in ELT course books) set.

  • Are there any legal issues when publishing images of people, for example your class of students?  Is permission all that is required usually?

Yes, there are legal restrictions regarding portraits but also we want to be responsible.  This means that we ask that permission is sought for recognisable images of people and from parents of children. Also check with the school policy on this.

  • What is your favourite activity you know about that uses or can use #ELTpics in the classroom?

I really like Ceri Jones’ ‘An open door…?’ micro writing activity that she wrote for the ‘take a photo and…’ blog. http://takeaphotoand.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/an-open-door/  I like this activity because it takes an everyday object – a door – and results in a lot of classroom language.

  • Who do you think has contributed the most photos, other than those directly involved in running it?

I wouldn’t like to name anyone in particular as some folks send lots of photos in short periods whereas others have been steady regulars.  Also, some of the more recent contributors are quite prolific but joined later.  Every single photo is gratefully received.  🙂

  • Who is the most famous ELT person(s) that has/have so far contributed an image?

I have to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Gavin Dudeney, Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury who are the big ELT names that gave us support right from the very beginning.  I still think quite a lot of the ‘Food’ set is made up of Scott’s photos.  😉  Since then, many luminaries have come on board the #ELTpics train.

  • Were you disappointed not to win an ELTon award last year?

Am I supposed to say ‘no’ here?  No but really… we were very chuffed to reach the shortlisted stage because is meant that Carol, Fiona and myself finally got to meet each other.

  • How do you see the future of #ELTpics?  Are there any changes planned or is it more of the same?

Why change something that is working so splendidly?

  • Is there anything you would like to add or make clear about #ELTpics that has not already been said?

Just that we would love to hear on twitter and the Facebook page how people use #ELTpics in their classes because then we can then share this with other teachers.

That’s it!  My thanks to Victoria for taking the time to reply.

100 Sets

#ELTpics’ 100 Sets – click to see full size

References and further sources for how to use #ELTpics:

Mauchline, F, 2011: #ELTpics – How Does It Work. Available at: http://www.eltpics.com/howdoesitwork.html. Accessed 17 February 2014.

Mauchline, F. 2011-13. Take a photo and… http://takeaphotoand.wordpress.com/about/ Accessed 16 February 2014.

Millin, S. 2011. How to join in with eltpics. http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/how-to-join-in-with-eltpics/ Accessed 16 February 2014.

Pinard, L. 2013. How to use a great resource like eltpics for your teaching-  a summary. http://bit.ly/1bd7pEJ. Accessed 17 February 2014.

Wilden, S. 2012. How do/could you use a resource such as #ELTpics? http://bit.ly/1hpexAV. Accessed 17 February 2014.

Join Lizzie Pinard tomorrow – a webinar on Learner Autonomy

In this webinar http://goo.gl/YV3DgB we will be considering the topic of learner autonomy and suggesting practical methods that we can use to encourage our learners to move towards being genuinely autonomous outside the classroom.

– Use the World Clock http://goo.gl/QsNAQ8 to find what time the webinar is where you live.

#TeachingEnglish #Webinar #LearnerAutonomy.

The Benefits of Volunteering

Window on Norwich Market

Window on Norwich Market

I have just applied to be a volunteer with VSO .  It is only a general enquiry at this stage, no commitment.   I am already thinking ahead to what I might do after pre-sessional work this summer.  I would aim to leave the UK around 1 October and travel overseas to teach, possibly in Ethiopia.  I am not adverse to volunteering, having previously been a nightshelter worker on and off for four years in Cambridge and having started my teaching career by helping out at an orphanage in Tanzania.  Whilst I was a sabbatical officer at Anglia Polytechnic (Ruskin) University, I encouraged other students to volunteer in various ways and promoted the benefits of doing so, not least the ‘work’ experience that can be gained. This can look great on a CV, of course.  Other benefits of volunteering include the positive impact on those communities you work with, the positive feeling you get from doing good things and what it can do for personal confidence.

According to VSO’s Education Page:

You’ll be working alongside local colleagues, helping them develop their teaching methodologies and practices. That might mean helping teachers across several schools to build their confidence in the classroom. It could mean working with education authorities on curriculum development and school management. You might even work to make sure teachers are better valued, developed and supported.

http://www.vso.org.uk/volunteer/opportunities/teaching-and-education/english-language-teachers. Accessed 13.02.14.

Mind Office

Mind Office

I am currently volunteering  with Norfolk and Norwich Mind, the mental health charity, an area close to my heart, at The Forum, in Norwich.  It is more than just a stop-gap between jobs, as I wish to continue doing it once I am back in paid employment, if that is possible.  I am also helping out at a community church in the city’s King’s Street.  Both classes I would describe as informal and ESL/ESOL.  That is, they are free English classes for Speakers of other Languages who have found themselves by choice (being a full-time student at the University of East Anglia) or due to other factors living in the UK.  These other factors include coming to be with a spouse who is already living and working in the city or being migrant workers, refugees or asylum seekers. There is an overlap between the two classes as some of the students attend both, as well as there being one other volunteer who helps out at both.  We currently have a healthy number of Russians, a married couple from Syria, a couple of Iranians, a couple of Turks, a Lithuanian, a Pole and several from Taiwan and China, to mention just a few, but not by name.

If you do not know what the differences between ESL and EFL classes are, or why there might be a distinction, check out this summary of an #ELTchat from 27 February 2013.  It is not the first time I have taught lower levels, but (mostly) the Mind class is my first time to teach refugees/asylum seekers.  Their priorities and needs are different from your average university student.  They have more straightforward, day-to-day language needs.  They are not studying textbooks and are not being taught to test or to pass an exam.  Flashcards are something I have been using a lot of, so far, along with lots of gesture, mime and modelling the target language.  That is, when I am leading the lesson.  Pronunciation is also important at this level, especially for one student who is partially deaf.  It is certainly giving me back my slightly misplaced confidence, following my return from China last October.  In fact, I feel supremely confident once more.  The additional benefit is that it has provided a way back into ‘work’ – I will use this experience as a springboard to doing pre-sessional this summer, which will probably be at UEA INTO, thanks to the contacts I now have, although I am not ruling out Sheffield or other UK institutions.

If you have any experience of teaching refugees/asylum seekers, I would interested to know in the comments box below.

The Forum

The Forum

Pre-packaged, marketable language learning

#ELTchat, a weekly Twitter chat for English Language Teaching professionals, returned on 22 January 2014 after the Christmas/New Year break.  The chat is now held once per week, every Wednesday, alternating between 12 noon and 9pm GMT each week.  For the latest news on #ELTchat and the latest topics up for voting, click here.

image: @mkofab LicenseAttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by eltpics

Image: @mkofab License: Attribution Noncommercial Some rights reserved by eltpics

Proposal Topic

Proposed topic on the #ELTchat site – click to enlarge

Summary: Pre-packaged, marketable language learning

The first chat of 2014 was proposed by @cioccas (above) who, unfortunately, could not join in the actual chat due to its late timing – currently it is GMT+11 in Australia, where she lives. The topic title was distilled from @cioccas’ original lengthy proposal (above) which made reference to an abstract by Scott Thornbury for an upcoming #AusELT chat:

I would go further, though, and add that one of the unintended consequences of an uncritical commitment to educational technology might be the effective disempowering of teachers in the interests of servicing the neoliberal ‘knowledge economy’. As Lin (2013) warns: ‘Language teaching is increasingly prepackaged and delivered as if it were a standardised, marketable product […] This commodifying ideology of language teaching and learning has gradually penetrated into school practices, turning teachers into ‘service providers’. The invisible consequence is that language learning and teaching has become a transaction of teachers passing on a marketable set of standardised knowledge items and skills to students.’ This commodification process is, of course, massively expedited by digital technologies.  (emphasis added)

@cioccas was interested by the reference to Lin’s (2013) study and the notion therein of ‘prepackaged’ and ‘marketable’ language teaching.  The first thing that chat participants attempted to do was define what they understood this to mean.

For @harrisonmike it is the idea that one company provides all the material, such as all the coursebooks, learning materials and test sheets.  One body owns all the material from which lessons are planned. It is the monetisation of educational products across the board, he added later.  It has been called the ‘Pearsonization’ (or ‘Haussmannisation’ according to a post by Luke Meddings at TESOLFrance, referenced by @harrisonmike) after the largest education publisher in the world.  @Tefladventures wondered if a situation where schools provide all the materials that teachers are required to use, was an example, to which Marisa_C agreed, suggesting that ‘it could be printed or online pre-prepared lessons that teachers have to deliver in sync.’



Prefab Mats

It was generally agreed that prefabricated materials, or ‘prefab mats’, can bring benefits to newly qualified teachers.  It can ensure providers that all teachers are on the ‘same page’, even demanding it in one case. It can provide ‘a framework … but [we should] be encouraging a developing of teaching personality,’ stated @Innov8rEduc8r, who was not a fan of mandating the same textbook for every class, later suggesting that constraints might provide motivation for wickedly creative teachers and imagined many teachers disobeying. @tefladventures, who thought it easier for new teachers to have a syllabus but with freedoms, said that in her situation (Vietnam) there is a lot of ‘teaching to the test,’ instead on focusing on what students actually want to learn. This would probably mean ‘grammar’ according to @NikkiFortova.  @patrickelt wondered if learners can only express that they want to learn grammar. ‘The course program doesn’t usually leave time for what they [actually] want,” added @tefladventures.  When asked if this was an argument in favour of packaging, @nroberts said that she had found that ‘students’ parents are particularly in favour of testing and teaching to test.’  @nroberts88 suggested it sounded ‘Orwellian’. He also stated that there is so much pressure in Spain to pass exams such as the FCE before being able to graduate.  @tefladventures realised that a new law was coming in Spain before she left and found it interesting that it had been implemented. @Marisa_C believed that her experience of one big chain, in Greece, Eurognosi, elsewhere written as ‘Euro-Nosey’ was, in hindsight, somewhat Orwellian.

@Shaunwilden stated there is a difference between a syllabus and the whole package. @Shaunwilden wondered if the definition is any different from a school using a coursebook package.  In some senses, a coursebook is a pre-packaged set of materials, but the danger comes, according to @harrisonmike, when just one body owns it and everything else that is used in the classroom or the books become standardised across schools. @NikkiFortova did not think she had ever seen pre-packaged materials, unless we are talking about the rigidity of one coursebook.

Teachers could not create ‘Individualized programs for each student’ are just not possible where learning is ‘Pearsonali(s)ed,’ according to @victorhugor.    He thought the first decision by most language teachers is to select the textbook and workbook. It is a dream for publishers when [a textbook] goes global, he added, “because a dependant teacher will buy, buy, buy.”


click to enlarge

Pearsonisation 02

From @teacherphili’s own teaching beginnings, this was something he had experienced at Jungchul Hagwon, a franchise of cram schools in South Korea.  The concept is quite commonplace to those working in other Asian contexts.  Every franchise has the same material and there are set texts for each age group and level, which lay down the possible progression that can be made. The whole operation, including (not very hidden) CCTV in every classroom, as @BobK99 asked, was set up for the selling to and the ease of understanding by parents, who were performed to at scripted end-of-level presentations.  It was primarily a business first, a childminder second.  Learning authentic English came in third, at best.  

@patrickelt questioned whether the only possible ‘advantage’ in a cram school situation could be for the students’ parents. @teacherphili reiterated this so-called benefit, along with the possible benefit for the inexperienced, first time teacher who needs everything laid out for them. @NikkiFortova later rhetorically asked whether there were any large language schools in Asia that don’t force materials on teachers.

200 franchises, one syllabus

Jungchul Hagwons: 200+ franchises, one syllabus

Standardisation / Standard(ised) Environment

@Marisa_C asked why Directors of Studies and school owners do it [offer pre-packaged courses].  Is it to market better or because they don’t trust their teachers? @NikkiFortova wondered if it is done to help standardisation. ‘Of what?’, asked @Innov8rEduc8r. Not according to @Marisa_C, who claimed that “[standardisation] is a myth and a Utopian delusion. :-D”

@SueAnnan offered an example of a seemingly cost-ineffective Swedish school which sends students to a different environment [Jersey], provides all the material, employs local teachers and tells them what to teach.  @teacherphili thought this really was ‘the whole package.’ ‘It’s so soulless’, she said, before claryifying that the Swedish students, fortunately, do not come to her school, just the island.  The kids get a holiday, the company makes money.

@mitchefl thought pre-packaging to be more of a business ploy than about education. She once worked in a school which provided the whole course, although teachers could still ‘supplement’ the material, which was a word that @Innov8rEduc8r felt allowed scope for creativity.  There was still no room to ‘personalise’ the lessons … probably because of marketing, before sarcastically adding ‘that we should be wary of personalising … wouldn’t want teachers showing their own style … might engage the students!’ There seemed to be a slight confusion around this point between ‘pearsonalising’ as roughly defined above and ‘personalising’ – that is, bringing something of yourself to class.  They are, of course, distinctly different.

@harrisonmike used the phrase, ‘standard(-ised) environment’, which could mean a possible unified set of criteria, according to @NikkiFortova.  He felt that students in these settings were becoming less creative and imaginative. @Innov8rEduc8r questioned this, prompting @harrisonmike to reply that “Some students over the last few years [were] really not prepared to put the effort in.  Expecting it all on a plate.’  @patrickelt suspected students have imagination but do not express it, which was a possible factor, ‘especially when little … space for imagination [is] given in assessments,’ added @harrisonmike. @Innov8rEduc8r liked ‘finding out their passions, interests.  It’s a challenge,’ he stated.  This creative apathy was not an observation shared by @NikkiFortova.  Her students are amazingly creative, she felt, before adding that ‘as long as assessment carries on taking a bottom-up approach, it won’t get more creative.’  This creativity is more difficult in standardised environments, although maybe ‘we just have rethink our view of what testing and assessment looks like,’ she added.  ‘Rethink, re-shape, re-conceptualising,’ responded @Innov8rEduc8r. This could lead to ‘a more top-down rather than bottom-up approach to language learning,’ said @NikkiFortova.

@Marisa_C summarised one general consensus that we need a set of clear objectives but have the freedom to supplement when appropriate.   But also to get creative, added @Innov8rEduc8r, while @SueAnnan agreed in part.  She said that teachers also need freedom to meet the needs of students, which is not true in a standardised environment.

Bethany-Greg Tweet

@bethcagnol popped in with a random thought – many of her clients had requested not to provide pre-packaged training, which appealed to @Innov8rEduc8r.  In France, many DoSs say they can provide the teacher [on business English classes] with packages to make planning easier, while companies are requesting more tailored courses, @bethcagnol added.  This was recognised by @Marisa_C from her own context at CELT Athens.  This was interesting for @patrickelt as many teacher training courses do seem to provide these materials.  ‘If many schools opt out of providing packages, will this then change the responsibilities of DOSs’, said @bethcagnol, before adding that she had recently hired a teacher who refused to plan.  ‘It’s a risk but it’s working so far,’ she said.  The lack of trust in the trainer is, also for her, a major factor in pre-packaging.  Many large language companies are run by non-teachers.  It is a general critique of education provision, not just ELT.

Marisa-Greg Tweet

click to enlarge


Moving the topic on, @Marisa_C subsequently asked if all teachers are good syllabus designers or have the ability to analyse students’ needs.  If not, then can this explain pre-packaging?    Clear objectives and a healthy library full of resources helps, responded @tefladventures. Teachers should be trained in this. ‘Talk to the students, see what they can [already] do,’ suggested @harrisonmike.  But if it is a large concern, with 300+ teachers, you can’t possibly hope to monitor them all, said @tefladventures. It may not be about the materials per se, ‘if teachers have the scope to deviate,’ pointed out @Innov8rEduc8r.  @harrisonmike asked whether language schools need an appealing gimmick.   @mitchefl thought that some kind of ‘gimmick’ might be needed ‘to help them stand out from the crowd.’

@patrickelt raised the point of distance learning materials.  Pre-packaged materials are not localised, interjected @Sookjhee. Although they could be, suggested @BobK99.  Although a number of participants thought this was a good point, it was not expanded upon.

Being aware of individuals in a group is important, but getting them to collaborate is key,’ for @NikkiFortova.  ‘I think some people confuse personalisation, mentioned earlier, with heavy individualisation,’ said @Marisa_C.  But, the individual is too easily forgotten, said @Innov8rEduc8r, who claimed that you can still have awful teaching with prefab materials. They do not help teacher development much. @SueAnnan added that “in many ways these are more difficult as they don’t always take loyalty into account.”

This thread lead to prompted @bethcagnol to ask a devil’s advocate question.  Do pre-packaged programmes cause awful teaching?  ‘Not with an experienced teacher,’ according to @SueAnnan. ‘Less likely to happen,’ believed @harrisonmike.  An awful teacher will always be an awful teacher, regardless of material used, believed @tefladventures.

@Marisa_C expressed this slightly differently.  Do students suffer from pre-packaging and in what way?  Can well-designed and taught prefab lessons work well?  Pre-packaged materials can be ‘a good model of they are well written and based on sound learning and teaching beliefs,’ replied @NikkiFortova.  ‘I guess it comes down to [students’] needs, interests and passions – are they developing life skills?’ asked @Innov8rEduc8r.  ‘Packages can suck the life out of teaching,’ however, thought @bethcagnol.

Language is not packaged up in real life, so it should not be in teaching or learning,’ affirmed @harrisonmike, before adding that ‘packaged learning materials promote [an] atomistic rather than [a] holistic view of language’.  To which @NikkiFortova replied,  I think the trend towards language learning, due I’d say to testing, is analytic rather than holistic, at least in the [Czech Republic].’

So packaging does not guarantee quality of instruction or learning!  Go tell industrially oriented school owners!!! shouted @Marisa_C towards the end.

At this point, the chat was wound up, with particpants, including some first-timers, thanked for their contributions.    It was a ‘highly energetic chat’ according to @Innov8rEduc8r and a great way to kick off #ELTchat in 2014.  People were reminded that the chats are now once a week at the alternating times of 12 noon and 9pm GMT. See #ELTchat for more.

Marisa_C - Tweet

Link referred to by @cioccas:

Lin, A. 2013. Toward paradigmatic change in TESOL methodologies: Building plurilingual pedagogies from the ground up. TESOL Quarterly, 47, 3

Thornbury, S. 2014. Abstract for upcoming #AusELT Twitter chat on ‘Ed Tech: The Mouse That Roared?’ Available at: http://bit.ly/1ayiEHR.

Links referred to by @harrisonmike:

Meddings, L., 30 Nov 2013. We Teach to Reach, they Test to Invest. Available at: http://bit.ly/1mWaFam. Accessed 22 January 2014.

Ravitch, D., 5 June 2012. The Pearsonizing of the American Mind. Available at: http://bit.ly/1d28h9D. Accessed 22 January 2014.

Chat Attendees

This chat’s attendees* by their Twitter handles in order of appearance:

@Marisa_C (moderator) @Innov8rEduc8r @teacherphili @Shaunwilden (moderator) @victorhugor @BobK99 @tefladventures @patrickelt @harrisonmike @Mashfaqka @NikkiFortova @nroberts88 @AlexandraKouk @SueAnnan @mitchefl @elawassell @bethcagnol @sookjhee @bigke

*not including lurkers or trolls, which the author would like to point out are definitely not the same thing.

Note: As with all #ELTchat summaries that I write I am aware that ideas can become ‘decoupled’ (a lovely concept I borrowed from Keith Richards – paper see here) from the original conversation and the potential is always there for misquoting someone.  Any decoupling is, therefore, unintended.  Although it is not helped when participants forget to use the #ELTchat hashtag, as responses can become effectively decoupled in the transcript. I would welcome feedback/comments, as well as an opportunity to correct any decoupling, if this is the case.

New Platform, New Beginning

I have decided to make the switch from Google’s Blogger, after nearly five years (2009-13), to its most significant rival, WordPress.   There are many reasons for the making the platform switch which I have outlined below.    For some time, I have regretted going with Blogger and keeping a ‘white-on-black’ text display.  Hyperlinks, for example, do not show up particularly well and I have always been envious of those with cleaner, less cluttered, ‘black-on-white’ text displays.  Although I could have fiddled with this on Blogger, past posts would have been affected badly. It would have been a formatting headache. Anyway, I have been looking for a decent excuse to make a clean break for a while now. New year, new platform, new beginning.  This also coincides with having purchased a new laptop, a Lenovo Z500 IdeaPad, and having to configure Windows 8 for the first time. 👿

At times I have wondered whether keeping a blog was worth it.  It can get lost amongst the online ‘noise’ out there. The ELT community hardly needs another blog crying for attention. Readership and engagement depends much upon the quality of what is written and its relevance to others, as well as the willingness to promote yourself at seemingly every opportunity. But a very recent series of posts – ‘how does blogging help you be a better teacher?’, on the British Council – Teach English site, reminded me that it is worth it.  One of the four bloggers featured, Lizzie Pinard, suggested that the question should be reworded as ‘How does blogging help you to BECOME a better teacher?’ It is not a static thing, after all.  She argues that sharing ideas and experiences, both positive and negative, can be hugely motivating. It can stop a teacher from getting stuck in a rut and losing enthusiasm, she says.   The need for reflection, also mentioned by the other contributors, is also shared by me, even if it is a fairly ubiquitous title or byline for a teacher blog.  I am also a highly reflective person.  Not in the sense that I can go out on a push bike at night and be seen by oncoming traffic, but in the sense that I will weigh up my experiences and aim to learn from them.   This has to take place in order to move forward, in order to become a better teacher.  Like anyone else really, I have had a few bad experiences as a teacher, but I like to think that I have learned something from them.  Looking back, I’ve also had some great experiences and I do not regret for one second going into this line of work.

In the future, I aim to post relevant thoughts, actions and reflections of my TEFL experiences on this very space.  But what can you expect to find here in the future?  As I state in the ‘About Me’ page it would be fundamentally these areas:

  • Classroom Practice
  • Discussion of ELT methodology
  • ICT use in ELT
  • #ELTchat summaries
  • Online Teaching Resources
  • Reviews of Face to Face (e.g. IATEFL) and Online (eg Virtual Round Table) Conferences and Webinars (e.g. those held by IATEFL Special Interest Groups, Cambridge English Teacher).

A Very Brief History of Blogging

Blogging for me started off as very personal. It was a way of sending a virtual postcard back to my family. Originally, I blogged about my trip to Tanzania – calling it ‘Phil’s Adventure’  – here is my very first post from Dar Es Salaam way back in October 2006. It was in Tanzania where I was first called ‘Teacher Phili’ by the kids at the Hisani orphanage near Mwanza.  It continued with my first teaching job in South Korea using a site hosted by STA Travel (2006-9) with whom I bought my insurance, and continued up until my first summer job for Bell Educational Trust.  Then I switched to Blogger, for TP’s TEFL Travels – note the plural now – as I headed off to China, once I realised I could get round the great firewall using a proxy. I continued to use Blogger, or ‘Blogspot’ as it is also known, during my time in Saudi Arabia. The blog became more ‘professional’ during my MA at the University of Warwick (2011-12).  In the sense that I started writing more for a general (ELT professionals) audience rather than a specific one (my family). I started using Twitter properly and even Facebook for posting more teaching related content than ever before.  I met with ‘the great and the good’ in the ELT world, most notably at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow, 2012.  I ran a parallel blog, Teacher Phili’s ICT in ELT during that year, which was a marked assignment for my MA. I also found out about #ELTchat and began writing summaries in 2012.  #ELTchat uses WordPress and the links have now been placed on a separate page on this new blog – see top of page.  I hope to continue to do some more of these in the future as they are a great way of connecting with my personal learning network (PLN) and useful for professional development.  My summaries feature amongst the highest read of all my previous posts because they appeal to a wider audience and get promoted in several ways.

A false dilemma?

A false dilemma?

10 Reasons for making the switch to WordPress  

It is just over ten years since WordPress first launched, in 2003, so I thought I would list ten reasons for making the switch from Google’s Blogger to the new format.

1. The primary reason for making the switch is that Google already ‘owns’ me to some degree.  I switched from Yahoo! to Gmail in 2012.  I tend to use Chrome more than Firefox to surf the internet these days, simply because of the cross-platform (laptop, iPad, Android mobile) ease to maintain bookmarks.  Furthermore, Google’s new Terms of service  is pretty questionable as it relates to claiming ownership to what you write.  It was annoying having two separate Google log-ins, using Google’s messy multiple-account management, meaning that with Chrome open, I needed to sign out of one and into the other – defeating the mantra of ‘one account – all of Google’.  I rarely use Google+ and am reluctant to have everything, including my blog and You Tube uploads all tied up in one place.

2. WordPress is a complete content management system (CMS) running on a web hosting service, currently on version 3.8 – ‘Parker’ – WP releases are all named after famous jazz musicians. If I was to ever go freelance, then it would serve as a more than adequate website to advertise my wares. The blog can be turned into a full-on static or hybrid website. It is frequently voted as the best system of its kind out there and apparently “powers 18.9% of the web” according to Automattic founder, Matt Mullenweg – in The Next Web. See his ‘state of the word’ address here, recorded 27 July 2013.

3. WordPress seems more sophisticated, with its numerous templates, plug-in architecture, numerous add-ins, layout and flexibility in the stand alone open-source release. There are more ways to customise the appearance and settings.  It also feels quite intuitive to learn these, without needing to constantly ask yourself, ‘where’s that button?’ Having previous experience of maintaining a blog, however, helps to know what to look for.  HTML embed code also appears to be a lot shorter in WordPress.  Admittedly, Blogger probably offers more for free, as many of WP’s attractive features have to be paid for.  Unlike WP, however, Blogger cannot be installed in a web server. One has to use DNS facilities to redirect a blogspot domain to a custom URL.

4. Stamping your own online identity is important.  This is even more so if you are the kind of educator that has published or presented widely and want to use the platform to share articles, presentation slides, links etc.  I am fortunate in a way to have a unique name – yes, there is no-one else in the world with my name – believe me, I’ve done the research – and no-one that has the ‘teacherphili’ moniker.   Choosing a theme is one thing, but customising it to make it individual to your needs and tastes is another. In terms of appearance, I have only ever come across one WordPress blog that looked like another one. This was an (unnamed) blog using the streamlined ‘Freshy’ theme which seemed to be very close to the look and feel of The A-Z of ELT (Scott Thornbury) .   I have, however, seen quite a number of similarly-looking Blogspot pages, with similar default backgrounds. Two WP blogs I follow – see reason 9 – have the same ‘Spectrum’ theme but otherwise they look and behave quite differently.  I confess now, that after originally choosing ‘Twenty Thirteen’, then ‘Suits’, I have gone with the ‘Misty Lake’ theme.  It is the same one that Lizzie chose, although I am not intending to mimic her or anyone else, really.  Short of paying for a more exclusive theme – something I am reluctant to do at this stage.

5. For the reader, ease-of-access and the ease with which to leave a comment is highly important for your blog to be interactive.  It is no use being one-directional.  A visitor stat count does little to show that readers have engaged with the content.  Most of the quality blogs I have seen over the years have a wide circulation and the most impressive are those which generate a lengthy discussion.  I have always been envious of that.  WordPress, by all accounts, beats Blogger in terms of ease of engagement.

6. WordPress needs to make money, of course.  There are many features which are for sale, such as premium themes and custom domains.  Conversely, Blogger is not a commercial service. It became part of Google in 2003 who have kept it going, but its appearance is somewhat outmoded now, with only the occasional redesign. The rather ancient Blogger features page (it explicitly mentions uploading to Google Video and easily accessing iGoogle, both dead projects) promises users access to all features. 

7. I will be able to access and edit my WordPress blog from mobile apps for my iPad and Sony Xperia Android phone.  I used to view my blog on my Blackberry and the mobile version was OK, but I never once edited it.  Since that particular mobile died, I’ve gone with Android, which is Google owned. There is a decent app  from Google Play, while there is an similar app for iOS 7.  I know some will argue that the same is true for Blogger, but I never felt like writing an entry from my mobile and I never tried the Blogger app.  I had some display issues anyway when trying to write an entry using the iPad.  I’ve set up the WP app on both devices and I will see how that goes.

8. When you write a post in Blogger there is only a back arrow for undoing the latest action, as with any Word processor software, which takes you back to the previously saved draft.  In WordPress, a whole bank of revisions (sessions) can be accessed, compared and reverted to if necessary.  I have found the ‘kitchen sink’ range of editing tools quite quickly, although I note that a text (font) tool seems to be absent.

9. There are many ELT professionals who already use WordPress.  That does not mean that all those using Blogger are in any way less professional. Far from it. Continuing on from reason 4, however, I just find that Blogger can look unattractive, even ugly at times.  I prefer the more refined appearance of nearly all the WordPress blogs I have seen so far compared with their Blogger equivalents.  A quick check on the 74 blogs I’ve currently got bookmarked reveals roughly an equal number using each, plus a small handful using alternative platforms, such as Edublogs, and a few who self-host. Amongst those in my PLN, aside from those I’ve already mentioned, who already use WordPress or a WP-based platform are the following:

#ELTchat (Shaun Wilden, Marisa Constantinedes, TheTeacherJames), #EAPchat (Tyson Seburn, Sharon Turner, Adam Simpson), Sandy Millin, Ken WilsonNathan Hall, Hugh Dellar, Rachael RobertsMichael Griffin, Vicky LorasIan James, David Petrie, Willy Cardoso, Chia Suan Chong,  Teaching Village (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Sue Lyon Jones et al), Russell Stannard, Adrian UnderhillMike J Harrison, Alex Walsh and Paul Walsh. 😀

It is by no means an exhaustive list.  There are more listed in my rapidly expanding ‘blogroll’ (above right ↑→).  If you are in the ELT business and have not got a mention yet, especially if you have a great WordPress site, then please comment below I’ll take a look.

10.  Change can be good for the soul.

I expect that the theme and general appearance will change a lot over the next few months as I adjust to the new home for my more professional thoughts.  My less professional thoughts will remain on Facebook, of course.  I will continue to use Twitter to highlight new posts on here and posts from my ever-expanding personal learning network.  I hope to meet up with several of them again at the IATEFL conference in April.

You can follow me on Twitter here: @teacherphili, or by clicking the link in the Twitter news feed (also above right ↑→).  I will let you know when I’ve got something interesting to say. 💡

correct as of 21 January 2014

correct as of 21 January 2014

*** Do you use WordPress?  I would be interested to hear comments about your own experiences of using the platform and any tips that you might have as a ‘WordPressers’ – is that the correct term?  If you think I have done Blogger a disservice and want to argue in favour of it, I would also be interested to hear.  ↓ PLEASE SCROLL DOWN to leave a REPLY/COMMENT. ↓ You might need to click on ‘leave a comment’.

If you want to make the switch yourself to WordPress yourself or to start your own blog but don’t want to learn by trial and error and need a guiding hand to getting going then you could do worse than check out Russell Stannard’s step-by-step guide: Teacher Training Video for WordPress. My own screencast, incidentally on using the COCA corpus is now hosted on the TTV site – here.


My previous blogs:

Phil’s Adventure (2006-9)

TP’s TEFL Travels (2009-13)

Teacher Phili’s ICT in ELT (2011-13)


Additional Information:

Brookes, T., 2013. ‘Blogger vs WordPress.com: A Complete Comparison’. 25 April. Available at: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/blogger-vs-wordpress-comparision/. Accessed 14 January 2014.

Russell, J., 2013. ‘The 15 best blogging and publishing platforms on the Internet today: Which one is for you?’ http://thenextweb.com/apps/2013/08/16/best-blogging-services/#!sLFS4. Accessed 14 January 2014.

Header photo – taken by me – shows the bay at El Nido, Palawan, in The Philippines, February 2010.

Desktop (12)

El Nido, The Philippines.