Tag Archives: PLN

The New Blog Carnival has been Published!

If you aren’t familiar with a blog carnival then you are in for a treat.  It is a list of blog posts from various people all based around a common topic.

The 25th, yes 25th, ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival has just been published on Berni Wall’s excellent blog.  There is almost too much great content – certainly enough for several days of reading, consideration and commenting (hint, hint – always try to comment on blogs).

The common theme for this edition of the blog carnival was popular posts.  So basically these are the posts from people’s blogs that have already grabbed a lot of attention.

If you are just starting in the blogosphere then the Blog Carnival is the best way to quickly find some great quality bloggers to follow, learn from and share with.  Thanks for hosting, Berni!


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Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Recommendations


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May I present Richard Brown (another PLN interview with the other half of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills)

Richard Brown, me and Keith Barrs before a gruelling 10-mile race through gale-force winds and hailstones.

Richard Brown is another valuable member of my PLN that I would like to introduce to you all.  But more than that, he’s a good friend and a great guy.  So that’s disclosure out of the way. 🙂  While living and working in Spain he co-authored the new release, IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills, with Lewis Richards (whose interview can be read here).  I know Richard to be a great supporter of his fellow teachers with lots of great ideas and patience for his colleagues as well as his students.

I won’t bore you any further with introductions; over to Richard!

The Standard 5 Questions

1.  If your students were to describe you with 3 adjectives, what would they be?

I would like to think they would say passionate, patient and supportive. Maybe optimistic too?

2.  What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Half a giant watermelon. I’ve been helping my friend down at his allotment here in Spain. It’s great because I learn about growing vegetables, a bit of Spanish culture and it saves me money at the same time!

3.  If you weren’t a teacher what might your profession be?

I originally trained and worked as a news journalist for 4 years and have always carried a passion for creative writing. Like many people, I think there is novel in me – I just haven’t been able to extract it quite yet.

4.  What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession?

This is a nice problem to have but I think as the teacher, you never stop learning new things. The challenge then is to find room for and assimilate all that knowledge as you go along, hopefully fine-tuning your craft as you go.

5.  What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

The last book I read was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book which I love to read again and again is What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson. It documents the real life accounts of 50 people from all walks of life and what they did when they faced this question at some stage in their lives. For me, it is a true work of art.

Extra Questions

6.  You and Lewis just finished writing a book together.  Why did you write it?

First and foremost we wrote IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills because as teachers of IELTS for many years we knew that there was a clear need for a step-by-step guide to the writing module. To our knowledge, this type of one-stop book simply does not exist. And I think another big reason was that Lewis and I share a lot of the same ideas about teaching and we felt it would be a good experience to work on a project such as this.

7.  Who is it for?

It’s for students wanting to develop their proficiency in writing in preparation for the IELTS exam, or for the teachers who are guiding them. We wanted to create a book which could be used as a self-study guide but also something which makes the difficult job of teaching IELTS writing more accessible for both novice teachers and those with more experience.

8.  Why are neither of you imparting your knowledge through twitter or a blog yet?

We’ve been too busy writing this book!!!   Actually, Lewis and I are ‘guest-blogging’ on Delta Publishing’s development blog from September until November so please have a look and tell us what you think. You can find the blog by following this link.

9.  What do you like to do to unwind?

Now that I’m living in Spain and pretty much fully immersed in the Spanish language and culture, I actually like nothing more than actually speaking English every once and a while because I don’t have to think about what verb ending to use or whether I should be using the subjunctive form. Joking aside, this experience is really helping me to gain a greater insight and respect for my learners and the challenges they face.

New York City (Picture from kylemccluer on Flickr)

10.  What’s your favourite place in the world?

New York City.  Unbelievable.

11.  What do you want to do in the next year and how can I help?

Live more in the moment. You can try it too and can compare notes.

Final Question

12.  Next time we see each other, whose round is it, what’s everyone having and where will we have it?

It’s definitely your round if I remember correctly, how about a glass of bubbly to celebrate the good times and as it’s your shout let’s go somewhere upmarket.  (Gordon – How about a picture of some champagne instead?)

Glasses of Bubbly (Picture from waldoj on Flickr)

Thanks to Richard for the interview and I look forward to seeing more of him and his work online (fingers crossed).  If you want to get IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills you can get it on Amazon or from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.

For more information from Lewis and Richard about the book, watch these videos:

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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in IELTS, PLN Interview


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Grammar & IELTS Writing (Blog Recommendation)

In the introduction to my PLN interview with Lewis Richards a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Lewis hadn’t started blogging yet.  I was very pleased to see last week that this was no longer the case.  May this be the first of many from him!

Grammar & IELTS Writing by Lewis Richards on the Delta Publishing Blog.  A look at tailoring and improving English grammar for written assignments.

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Grammar/Structure, Recommendations


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My PLN Interview with Lewis Richards, author of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills

I’m very pleased to finally accept the challenge laid out many months ago – interview someone in your PLN.  I present to you a guy who isn’t particularly active online… yet.  He doesn’t have a Twitter account and he doesn’t have his own blog… yet.  Hopefully we can change his mind about that soon because I know he’s got a lot of really great ideas to share.

I first met Lewis Richards in 2008 when I started teaching in Portsmouth, England.  With enormous patience, he showed me the ropes with regard to something I was going to have to start teaching soon called Eyelets, or Yelts, or IELTS or something like that. 😉  With another fine colleague of mine, Richard Brown, the two of them set themselves the goal of writing a coursebook.  IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills is the result.

So without further ado, I present a multi-talented Lewis Richards!

The Standard 5 Questions

1.  If your students were to describe you with 3 adjectives, what would they be?

Hopefully, passionate about teaching, fun, hard-working.  But I reckon some would also say strict!

2.  What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Not a lot.  Leftovers.  Rotting vegetables.  It’s lucky you can’t see it, really.  (Gordon – I know this can’t be true because Lewis is actually a very good cook!)

3.  If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

Hard to say, I’ve been teaching for so long, and enjoy it so much, that I can’t imagine anything else.  But I’ve always enjoyed writing, so maybe journalism.

4.  What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

It might sound cheesy, but I’ve enjoyed every class that I’ve taught.  But I did have a class a few years back in Moscow of total beginners, and a couple of the students couldn’t read or write in Russian, so it was quite tough to teach them English.  We had fun, but I’m not sure we made a great deal of progress.

5.  What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

At the moment, I’m reading Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’ – I only started reading his books recently, and I love his style and wit.  The book I re-read the most is Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, even the hundredth time around it makes me laugh out loud.  A work of genius.

Extra Questions

6.  You’ve just finished writing a book with Richard.  Why did you write it?

Well, both of us have taught IELTS for a long time, about 15 years between us, and we found that although there are lots of good IELTS books on the market, we couldn’t find a single book that made it easy to teach the writing to students.  So we ended up writing our own exercises and material, and over the years accumulated hundreds of our own exercises for the writing part of IELTS.  And it’s worked, our students have always done really well in IELTS, particularly in the writing, so we knew that we were on the right track.

A couple of years ago we thought to ourselves ‘well, why don’t we put all these ideas together into a book’, and so we did.  We hope it will be really useful for students, and help them to get a 6.5 or above in the writing, and also I think the book is great for IELTS teachers – because it contains everything that students need to get a good score, and it’s quite user-friendly, and hopefully easy to teach with.

7.  Who is it for?

We decided to write the book so that students can use it either as a self-study book, because we know that a lot of IELTS candidates just don’t have the time or maybe the money to go to a language school and do an IELTS course.  There are a lot of professional people, like nurses and doctors, who need a high score in IELTS, and have good English, but need help with the writing because it’s quite specialised and technical, but because they are working, they don’t really have time to spend a couple of months in a language school.  I’ve met lots of students who spoke fantastic English, and got a 7.5 or 8 in the speaking part, but couldn’t manage a high score in the writing, because they hadn’t had any training.  Our book will help those people.

Of course, it’s also designed to be used in the class with a teacher – and one of the things we think is really important about the book is that every single exercise in it has been tried out in class many times – so we know that the book works.  The aim in terms of a score, is a minimum of 6.5, hopefully more.  We also drew on our experience as IELTS writing examiners to show students what is required to get these kinds of scores.  One of the things we wanted to put into the book were some real pieces of writing by our students, with our comments and scores, so that students can see what a 7.0 answer, for example, looks like.  We hope that these will be really useful.

8.  Why are neither of you imparting your knowledge through twitter or a blog yet?

Well, just speaking for myself, I’m not very up with the latest technology, I’m more of a paper and pen man, but I know I should drag myself into the 21st century!

9.  What do you like to do to unwind?

I’m really into tennis, I play a few times a week, and find that a really good game gets rid of stress, and keeps me fit.  Beer helps too!

10.  What’s your favourite place in the world?

I think I’d have to say Paris.   Not especially for the landmarks, although it is of course an amazingly beautiful city, but because it was the first place I lived and worked abroad, when I was in my early 20s, and the excitement of learning a language and living in a new culture for the first time is something I’ll never forget.

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris (Photo from OliverN5 on Flickr)

11.  What do you want to do in the next year and how can I help?

There are several ideas for other books in the pipeline, but it’s a bit early to say exactly what at the moment.  But, probably some more writing, along with teaching, of course.  Feel free to keep talking about our books on your great website!

Final Question

12.  Next time we see each other, whose round is it, what’s everyone having and where will we have it?

Well, I think it’s definitely my round – you’re actually a rare Scot who’s very generous with money, so I’m sure I owe you a few!  Summertime, a nice cold beer, somewhere by the sea sounds perfect!

Looking forward to it! Photo from bovinity on Flickr

Thank you for the interview, Lewis.  I’m sure the book will be a great success and help many students around the world.  Here are the links to the various Amazon sites where the book is available nowIELTS Advantage: Writing Skills on Amazon UKAmazon FranceAmazon GermanyAmazon CanadaAmazon Austria and Amazon Japan.
For more information from Lewis and Richard about the book, watch these videos:


Posted by on September 6, 2011 in IELTS, PLN Interview, Recommendations


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Neil McMahon’s “Professionally Developing” (Reflections on the August 2011 ABS International Conference, pt 1)

I’ve just got back from my first conference this year. Disgraceful, I know, considering it’s already August!  Actually, I’m very lucky to have made it to this one, the ABS International Conference for ELT Managers and Directors of Studies, just before I return to Britain next month, thanks to colleague Celeste Batto. And I’m very glad I did made it because it gave me the opportunity to finally meet one of my digital PLN in person.

Neil McMahon has been part of my PLN for a while now and it was great to finally meet someone who, up to now, had just been a small box on Twitter.  Neil was giving a talk on professional development which I really appreciated and I’ll tell you why: it confirmed I am on the right track more or less, it gave me more information on course options available for further development, it filled in some gaps in my knowledge and it has given me some direction and focus for my next teaching project.

Before I go into any more details I’ll come clean and say that this post, a review of the talk, is actually homework given by Neil – yes, there was homework!  Homework #3: “share the ideas in the conference with your peers”.  If I’m completely honest, Neil, I was going to write this anyway but it’s good to know I’ve got your blessing. 🙂

So a lot of avenues for professional development were covered, all of which I won’t go into here but one in particular that piqued my interest was action research.

Action Research

Time being short we had to choose from the handout what we wanted to know about in more detail (a dogme presentation of sorts?).  Along with many other attendees I raised my hand for ‘action research’, mainly because I had a vague idea about what it might be but really was just guessing.

So boiled right down, action research is a project whereby one specific ingredient in the class is added or changed to see if it has a measurable positive effect.  This one change must be based on a specific hypothesis or question with the goal of proving or disproving it after a set period of time, like a month or a semester.  Here is a silly, basic example:

“Will the giving of a cookie to everyone who arrives on time improve the timekeeping of my students?”

Ideally you would have two groups in similar need of improvement, one is asked to improve timekeeping and rewarded with cookies, the other is just asked to improve timekeeping.  This second group is the control group and at the end of the month or however long you choose, the two groups are compared to measure for change.

So why do I like this?

Students tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end; the end coming in the form of a certificate, big exam, dramatic production, etc.  However, teachers often don’t have this end.  Even a new year is often a repeat of the previous year and new students still need to prepare for the same old exams in many cases.  However, something like an action research project can provide that arc and closure to a period of teaching.  It also turns the teacher back into a far more active learner of their profession.  It provides a wonderful opportunity to inject some enjoyment and interest back into your teaching, especially if you are tiring from doing the same level/course year in, year out.  On top of all this, such a project can provide a finished product to be shared with your peers for them to read, consume, consider and benefit from.

One other excellent point raised was that such research lends itself to closer work and collaboration with colleagues as one of you might teach the control group while the other does the experimental teaching, with collaborative assessment, review and write up.  I look forward to an opportunity to implement this soon.

Twitter, Blogs and PLN

It was reassuring when Neil moved onto this topic and highly recommended it.  I’ve been convinced of the benefits and opportunities afforded us by these amazing tools, but it’s always nice to hear someone else champion the cause as well.  He mentioned the recent online debate about EFL teachers as professionals or tradesman.  I’ve got to own up and say I missed that discussion but an idea put forward in the talk was that professional development was the tool by which we as teachers continue to improve, stay fresh and keep our work interesting, both for ourselves and for our learners.  I’m not sure if this really addresses the question of professional vs tradesman as both, if they are dedicated, will continue to actively grow and hone their skills.  Another suggestion I found on Twitter from Neil was this,

twitter is the realm of the tradesman, perhaps you need to blog to let your professionalism out?

It is here where I will put forward an idea of my own, which might be a little controversial.  Twitter, blogs and a virtual PLN are professional development for people who are serious about professional development (PD), those who only do the conferences and leave it at that are falling short of how much they could be developing.  Please don’t misunderstand me here.  I like conferences.  I enjoyed this one.  I think they have an important place in PD.  However, even Neil McMahon in his talk admitted that sometimes the most rewarding parts of a conference are the chats we have and the connections we make during the coffee breaks.  Well, those chats and connections are my digital PLN on Twitter and the blogosphere and I’ve loved every minute of it!  (Thank you to all of you!)

I think what puts people off further PD through a virtual PLN is how time consuming it can become.  “I just never have time.” is something I’ve heard far too often.  Further to this, there is no certificate awarded for 10 hours spent reading teaching blogs or for contributing and debating on #eltchat.  I find the idea of certificates for a conference somewhat ridiculous to be honest.*  I got one from this ABS conference and it probably won’t make it into my suitcase for my return to Britain.  Not because I didn’t value the conference, far from it, but the conference is the start of a chapter in my professional development, not the end, so a certificate to say “Congratulations, you started!” seems to be rewarding achievement before it’s happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed this seminar by Neil McMahon (check out his blog here, A Muse Amuses) and the whole conference in fact.  From the 15 pages or so of notes I’ve got plus a list of websites to get further handouts and view presentations again, I’ve got a lot to think about, consume and try out.  Thank you Neil and thank you Laura Lewin, coordinator of the event, for providing me with so many ideas to think about, organize and act on over the coming months of my teaching.

* I discussed this with a colleague of mine who informed me that career development and promotion for teachers in Argentina is based on a points system, these points being achieved by going to events such as these conferences or other extra-curricular activities.  Hence, the certificates act as necessary proof to aid career advancement.  OK, I understand the obsession over certificates that I’m seeing a little better now… however, I’m worried that it has moved the focus of PD from development of abilities to accumulation of certificates.

P.S.  Having read over my post I feel the need to make clear – this is definitely not an attack on conferences.  I’ll reiterate my point that Twitter, blogs and the virtual PLN define a teacher who is serious about professional development and that those who are only attending the odd conference and not following that up with one or all of these web tools are really kidding themselves.  This might seem harsh but I also reckon I’ll get away with it since anybody reading this blog, by definition, falls into my category of “serious about PD” 🙂


Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Conferences, Reflections


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