Mike Harrison's Reviews

On moving home

Written on 26/09/2010 – 12:07 pm | by mikeharrison

Home SweetI’ve done it! Jumped ship, moved home, well, moved my main blogging endeavour over to a self-hosted WordPress blog platform.

There are a few reasons for doing this, but chiefly

  • Edublogs seems to be having a few ‘issues’ lately, and often I have found myself finding 404 error messages when I come to my blog :(
  • having a domain, and web space means I may be able to do interesting things like this, which I saw on Ian James’ blog TeflTecher
  • who knows where the future will lead, and I certainly wouldn’t want to leave any avenues unexplored or stone unturned – in the event that my work changes, a self-hosted website may be more useful for whatever happens!

So I invite you to join me over at www.mikejharrison.com! Look forward to seeing you there =)

Note: I will still be keeping this Edublog-hosted site active since I only subscribed to become pro in June. While I manage the crossover to my mikejharrison.com domain (and all the blog paraphenalia that includes – networked blogs, listing on the onestopblogs big blog list, etc.), I will be cross-posting new posts here and on my new site. As for what mikeharrison.edublogs.org becomes, let’s just say the future is unwritten =)

Image credit: Home Sweet Home Personalized Moving Announcements by jcbonbon on Flickr

Tags: , ,

Indecipherable lyrics – lesson activity

Written on 17/09/2010 – 6:31 pm | by mikeharrison

I remember seeing this on Nevermind The Buzzcocks (a British music quiz show) aaaaaaaages ago – Indecipherable lyrics.

I’ll let Mark Lamarr, the show’s host from 1996 to 2005, explain the rules: (please note, I find the video quite funny, but it may not be to everyone’s taste – you have been warned!!)

The episode I have burned on my memory featured Blur and Kate Bush:

The idea is to pick a song, or excerpt from a song, where the lyrics are pretty indecipherable (hence the quiz show round name), even to a native speaker. Here’s the procedure for the activity as in an English language lesson:

  1. Divide your class into two teams (or more if you have a lot of students) and explain that they are going to watch some music videos/excerpts from music videos
  2. Explain to your students that they will probably not be able to hear every word that is sung clearly. Instead of trying to get the exact words down, your students should write whatever words they think are being sung
  3. After watching the video, the teams should work together and produce their version of the lyrics
  4. Award points for the most accurate/funny/strange lyrics
  5. Hilarity will ensue! (possibly)

For some more songs with indecipherable lyrics, search on YouTube.

For the record, the first few times I heard Song 2 by Blur, I thought he was singing ‘Got my head checked, by a chamochay’ and that the chorus ended in ‘Is there any jam?’ ;)

Happy lyricing!!


Written on 06/09/2010 – 12:43 pm | by mikeharrison

Ooh, pretty exciting stuff (well relatively) this morning.

In the hall this morning was the new principal’s briefing at my college, in which she talked to us about a number of things including: the changes in funding and new ethos relating to further education coming into effect with the new government, where we’re going in terms of retention (keeping students) and success (the students achieving their qualifications), and college improvements that had happened over the summer holiday.

She also mentioned how underused our Virtual Learning Environment is in comparison with her former college (something like 40% of full-time courses here - but half really active – compared to 100% at her old principalship). So it seems that we’re going to be encouraged more and more to use the VLE, which is run on the Moodle platform.

moodle logo

So a change to my investigative social media project, which will now be happening in Moodle! And I will be a proper Moodler!

Nice :)

Image credit: moodle logo by ShawnKball on Flickr


My Teaching Approach: DJ ELT

Written on 04/09/2010 – 4:46 pm | by mikeharrison
How will you play your lesson?

How will you play your lesson?

Sometimes out there in the blogosphere you can find such interesting ideas being shared and discussed.

I recently experienced one of these times reading a post on Jason Renshaw’s English Raven blog: What’s your approach? Mine’s called EmLT, and a follow up by Ceri Jones on her approach, SLIL. Now, I’d like to write about my approach to teaching, but I’m not sure exactly how to crystalise it into words, and I would definitely say that I am still feeling my way as a teacher. At the moment, I couldn’t clearly write about my teaching approach even if I wanted to.

But I can write about my approach to materials: DJ ELT or Disc Jockey English Language Teaching.

The seed of this idea was planted in a conversation I had earlier this year with Jamie Keddie and one I had more recently with Phil Bird, and the approach is one I’ve really started to embrace since I started tweeting and blogging.

Something happens once you become an English language teacher, a switch is flipped in your brain and everything changes. Some might say it’s a blessing, others a curse (I’m towards the former myself): almost everything could be used in the teaching of English. Newspapers, magazines, songs, radio programmes, cartoons, paintings, photos, videos, the Internet, YouTube, blogs, wikis, etc, etc. Anything could be used to teach English.

The English Language Teacher is a DJ. They decide how to ‘play’ (read: use) all the different ‘music and songs’ (resources) to their learners. And like any DJ worth their salt, they have got to find the best mix, as their learners may like different kinds of music. They have not only to decide the what, but the when, the why and the how of their English teaching resources.

Sometimes it’s tough, but sometimes it’s also lots of fun :)

What about you? What is your approach?

You might also like to read Marisa Pavan‘s post on her ‘FlexiMoti’ approach. And Eva Buyuksimkesyan‘s on C-ELT.

Image credit: DJ E.A.S.E. (Nightmares on Wax) by PresleyJesus on Flickr

Tags: , , , , ,

My (students’) adventures in social media

Written on 28/08/2010 – 9:18 pm | by mikeharrison
I haven't had my feet up all summer...

I haven't had my feet up all summer...

I’m writing this in anticipation of a new academic year, and what will be my third year teaching ESOL (4th including my year of EFL in Spain). It’s the strange ‘in between’ time you get as the holidays end and term is about to begin. First there’s enrolment and the confusion that can entail – a whole lot of students new to the college wandering around, wondering where to go, and that’s on top of all the obvious language issues if they are coming to study ESOL.

Preparing for the new term and year seems to me quite the conundrum. There’s got to be some kind of plan in place as to what my particular group of students is going to do, but how can I really do that if I haven’t met them yet? It’s an interesting question, but I don’t want to write about the ins and outs of that at the moment.

Instead I’m going to focus on a method and an idea:

Using a social community platform as a way of encouraging my students to keep digital portfolios.

More to come later.

Image credit: No classes today by Alfon…* on Flickr

Tags: , , ,

Weight loss, teaching and Inception

Written on 17/08/2010 – 10:19 pm | by mikeharrison

Dreams. Funny things, right? Do they have hidden meanings? If you dream that you win the lottery, is it going to happen in real life? Well, it probably doesn’t. But maybe they do, dreams having hidden meanings that is. After all, a whole lot of money is made out of interpreting dreams and telling us what they really mean, whether it’s books that are published or people touting themselves as dream-consultants (I might have made that up).

Dreams are also the subject of a film out at the moment that is getting quite a bit of buzz on Twitter.

So far, so what, you may be thinking. What does this have to do with teaching, or for that matter, learning? Bear with me, I’ll tie this together eventually.

I saw Inception recently (I have to admit, I do fall into the ‘very impressed, blown-away’ category of film-viewer this time)

and it got me thinking about something I heard on the Radio 5 Live Phone-in last Friday (13 August) [NB - The podcast is no longer available to download] The topic discussed in the Breakfast Show that day was of obesity and whether it might be an incurable condition. This came the same time as an article on the BBC News website by Dr David Haslam saying that the most obese should not be eligible for gastric band surgery (the most common type of surgery to treat obese patients) and should just be offered paliative treatment instead. The part I’m interested comes 25 minutes and 30 seconds into the podcast of the phone-in, when a chap called Christian (he sounds like a CH Christian and not a CR one) talks about his experience of being grossly overweight and what he did about it. His story really is quite remarkable – he lost 7 stone and 12 lbs in a calendar year – but what is really interesting is what he says about self-image and its role in helping or hindering those wishing to lose weight. He mentions Dr Maxwell Maltz, who wrote about changing one’s self-image and how important it is to have an ‘accurate and positive view of [one's] self before setting  goals’. The idea presented by Christian in the phone-in was that if someone has a self-image of his or herself as overweight, then the body will treat that image as the norm. If any variation is made to that norm, through diet or exercise, and the body will revert to the self-image (typically people who are overweight join a gym, see improvements, then stop going). He likened it to a plane on auto-pilot, correcting its journey to account for variation in its course.

Ok, what does this have to do with Inception or teaching?

For those who haven’t seen the film, look away now. I’ll attempt a brief summary of the plot without giving too much away.


What do you mean your teacher doesn't walk on walls?

It’s possible to induce people into a dreamlike state. In this dreamlike state, architects are able to alter the landscape, buildings and surroundings of the ‘dream’. Other people can enter the dream and move around freely (more or less). Now the key part: in the ‘dream’, it is possible to trick the dreamer into giving up a piece of information – a plan, an invention, an idea – and steal it. In the film this is called extraction. However, most of the film isn’t about stealing ideas; no, it’s about planting an idea. Inception. Is it possible? Watch the film and find out. But the theory given is that inception is much harder to pull off than extraction. A subject often has to  be ‘fooled’ into giving themself the idea, at an almost sub-sub-conscious level.

So   what   does   this   have   to   do   with   teaching??? Ok, ok!

What if some learners have such a bad self-image related to learning (not language learning in particular) that they won’t succeed easily? They’ll be like the enthusiastic gym-goer who falls back off the wagon and starts over-eating again. Do we need to go deeper to plant a real seed to help our learners change their self-image? How do we help them keep going?

I’ve got some ideas, but I’d love to know what you think. And if you think I’ve just read a little too much into a piece of fiction, let me know in the comments below.

Image credit: inception cover by Alexander-R on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/xanderross/4815856871/

Tags: , , , , ,

Welcome to my Faceblogging experiment!

Written on 14/08/2010 – 3:05 pm | by mikeharrison

Rosie the BloggerI recently read this post about blogging on Facebook on EduDemic (thanks to @shannonmmiller for sharing it), and have decided to start a little experiment – blogging on Facebook!

[I know I've been a little critical of how Facebook has been used for professional and promotional purposes rather than personal stuff with friends, but I think I'm going about this in what I consider the 'right' way]

I’ve set up a page on Facebook for my blog – where I’ll post updates from what I’m doing here or other things related to teaching, share links and hopefully connect with teachers and other education related people. The blogging on Facebook I will try out by using their ‘Notes’ application. This is mentioned in the EduDemic post linked above, but I’ll repeat here anyway: Facebook Notes used to be pretty rubbish. Solely text and quite uninspiring-looking, to be honest; but it seems this has changed. You can now format text in a Note, add hyperlinks, and even insert photos.

In my previous experience, Notes on Facebook used to come to me as silly memes (you know, ‘I’ve seen 125 out of 238 movies’ kind of thing – you make your list, tag your friends in the Note as you would in a Facebook photo, it then comes up on their feed, and they make their list, tag, and so on…) but this looks like it could be quite interesting. And is it actually that easy? The EduDemic post suggests that Facebook might become the place for new bloggers, so just how user-friendly have they made it?

Join me on my Facebook page as I try to find out!

Image credit: Rosie the Blogger by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/2493066577/

Tags: , , , , ,

In the Flickr of an eye

Written on 10/08/2010 – 3:08 pm | by mikeharrison

The Never-Ending EyeI’ve started a Flickr account! I think I had actually started one up before, but never got round to using it all that much. This time, though, I am actually making use of it (you can see some snaps from a recent trip to Bilbao and some others I’ve taken with my new Digital SLR camera – you can see my latest uploads if you scroll down and look to the right). I’m actually enjoying having a Flickr account, as it means I’m thinking a little bit more when I’m taking photos. Previously I’ve been a little bit snap-ok-put-up-on-Facebook kind of a person, so I’m interested to try and take a few more ‘interesting’ photos. I’m also enjoying playing with my new camera, which may or may not have anything to do with trying to take more interesting photos… ;o)

But how could you use Flickr with an ESOL class? (for non-language-teaching types, ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages) Or for teaching in general? Here are just a few suggestions:

  • as a place to put photos from class and school trips – quite a simple one, I suppose, but one of the functions photo sharing sites like Flickr exist for. Those worried about privacy should note that Flickr does allow certain levels of filtering for keeping photos private – you can make them public or private (viewable only by yourself, or family/friend contacts on Flickr) when you upload photos or in the Organize & Create section – just click on all content, then you can change permissions for individual photos or sets of photos.
  • you could find pictures and ask your students to describe them – really this could be as straightforward or challenging a task as you want to make it. Also, a lot of the photos that can be found on Flickr are quite abstract, so simple description tasks can still be challenging even for higher level students.
  • with the previous task consider searching The Commons – you could then print off the photos and get your students to write their descriptions. Remember to credit the photos accordingly if you choose to do this.

Flickr The Commons

  • why not search for photos from your local area. Then students could see if they recognise the places they see in the photos. This could even form the basis of a task for a class trip – pick a few photos and then try to find the locations in real life.
  • if you are studying subjects like the natural world or sports, why not use Flickr photos to demonstrate or elicit different items of vocabulary.*
  • if your students are a bit more tech savvy you might like them to set up their own Flickr accounts. They could then comment on each other’s photos. This could also work well with the first suggestion in collecting photos from trips and visits.
  • if your students become interested in posting their photos online you could set them up on a project, such as the 365 project, where the aim is to take a picture a day, for a year. Find out more about this at the website http://365project.org/

Do you have any more ideas??

*This idea comes from a post by Jamie Keddie on his TEFLclips site, showing how photosharing sites can be used as visual dictionaries: Lesson Plan 13: How + adjective questions (take a look at the pdf file)

Note: I have submitted this post for the next EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival that is going to be hosted at @laflecha‘s blog, My Life Untranslated. You can read her post about the carnival here: Contribute to the next ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival (#19!)

Image credit: The Never Ending Eye by won7ders on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/won7ders/231260732/

Tags: , , ,

NATECLA National Conference 2010 reflections part 1

Written on 28/07/2010 – 7:31 am | by mikeharrison

The NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults) National Conference took place this year in Guildford at the University of Surrey. The overarching theme of the conference was ‘Language, Migration and Identity’. It was, in fact, the first ELT conference that I have been to! I found a lot of what I saw and heard there very interesting, and would like to share some highlights here. I was at the conference sponsored by the British Council, together with Phil Bird, Callie Wilkinson and Amanda Wilson, involved in a presentation of the Council’s online resources to raise awareness of them for ESOL teachers. I’ll write about that session in a future post, but you can get an idea of the content by looking at the presentations we made at a British Council seminar in June. A recording of the seminar can be found here: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/seminars/esol-workshop

Part 1 – a keynote that really was noteworthy

Celia Roberts gave the keynote address, titled ‘Language, Migration and the Gatekeepers’.

The first thing I noted was related to the title – Roberts hold that migrants to the UK and ESOL teachers are gatekept by institutions and institutional processes (the example Roberts gave was that of migrant workers at selection interviews) – and to Roberts’ related metaphor of a ‘linguistic penalty’. That is to say ‘all the sources of disadvantage that might lead a linguistic minority group to fare less well in the selection/evaluation process’. Certain examples of this given by Roberts were of prohibited languages (currently Kurdish in certain places would be one of these; an example going back, although not related to the UK, might be regional languages in Spain during the Civil War and Franco dictatorship); governmental policy regarding language used in certain professions; the conflict where migrants are expected to be fully functional in a capitalist environment, yet also inevitably perceived as ‘foreign’ and different; Citizenship exams.

So far, so clear. All obviously contexts and situations where someone who does not speak English (or the language of the country they are in) as a first language would find themselves at a disadvantage. What was really interesting was when Roberts looked in more detail at the selection interview process.

Janus: he looks left, he looks right...

Janus: he looks left, he looks right...

The metaphor here was Janus: both interviewer (and interviewing institution) and interviewee are stuck in a position of having to look backward and forward in time; and inward and outward in terms of experience, ideology, context. Hiring organisations look outward to those that they want to hire, while also looking inward to reaffirm what they are, what they stand for. Applicants have to show their past experience while also projecting how they would work in the organisation were they to get the job in the future. That duality flummoxes me, and I’m a native speaker!

This is even before you come to the type of questions asked at selection interviews. Here are a few from Roberts’ talk (both from her visuals and examples given orally):

  • What would you say is an advantage of a repetitive job?
  • How does an organisation manage change?
  • How does illness make you feel?
  • How do you know what you don’t know?

How easy would those be to answer if English was not your first language? I’d say how easy are they to answer if English is your first language!

Among the actions recommended by Celia Roberts were running employment-related courses based on real practices (to best prepare learners for such processes) and arranging appropriate work experience for ESOL students.

A final thought from the keynote: it is usually those that can tell a good story that succeed at selection interviews. Perhaps what we need to be doing is helping our students to tell their stories. What do you think?

You can find the slides to Celia Roberts’ talk (along with other speaker and workshop related documents) on the NATECLA website here: http://www.natecla.org.uk/content/526/national_conference_2010/

Image credit: Bust of Janus, at the Vatican, from wikimedia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f4/Janus-Vatican.JPG

Tags: , , , , , ,

Are you my friend or something else??

Written on 23/07/2010 – 8:00 am | by mikeharrison

Recently a friend of mine posted on their Facebook profile [edit replacing 'page'] that they would soon be changing their Facebook profile [edit replacing 'page'] to be an account for the band they will be working for. This raises for me a few issues that have been blogged about before.

My personal feeling is that this band (or business) may be looking to make the most they can from social media, perhaps with minimum effort on their part. How long has this band or business spent building up an image or reputation I can trust? The answer is actually not one second. Instead, they have employed my friend, taken over her Facebook page and gained access to all her friends. I’m not sure I am comfortable with this. (Kudos to said friend, who has been upfront about the whole ‘changeover’ thing – though I still think the band are benefitting from her friend contacts)

If I were a band or business and setting up on Facebook in what I see as an ethical way, I’d set up a page or a group for my commercial activities. If I were using a Facebook profile as a marketing tool, I’d also set up a new one of those, not just switch over my commercial activities to my personal Facebook site without warning. I guess the fact that it takes time and effort to build up a fanbase on social media makes little difference to these bands and businesses out to make what they can, and it seems to me they are using people on Facebook, while employing them as ‘street team‘ members, to get to a whole bunch of people they would not have got access to otherwise. The fact is, I’m not totally happy with it. How about you?

Facebook business

Related posts:

Facebook and the Edu-Marketers on Kalinago English

Paid 2 Tweet on Kalinago English

Tags: ,