M2M Vlog #4 (whilst IATEFLing Online)

Following #IATEFL2018 livetweets and watching the livestreams/recordings of selected talks as been great so far. In a handful of ways its is actually better than attending in person – you’re free of some typical conference downers. There’s no frantic jogging from session to session, no social anxiety when you bump into people you admire, the hangovers after nights out with those very same people (the anxiety subsides when, yet again, the fact that ELT is full of all the nicest people is confirmed). There are advantages, including how you can skim some of the best, more pertinent ideas from a multitude of sessions via livetweet and/or videos, and there’s a lot of the kind of semi-frenetic conceptual crosshatching that I very much enjoy.

Of course with all that said, I’d rather be in attendance! No matter how you plug into it, IATEFL is a jolt of a massive amount of intellectual input. There’s so much to follow up on. There’s so much to reflect on. So, thought I, maybe I’ll use my little “M2M TV” video-posting project here this month to do some bits of responding and reflecting. And here’s the first one. It’s something I deeply wanted to delete after watching back a bit (and not just because the angle highlights what I’m going to describe as my ScrivenerChin) but I resisted. I’m going to trust my original intention to just ‘put myself out there’ – that’s a big part of this.

I’ve been putting bullet-pointed overviews first, but because the text I’ve got to add is more extensive here (not bullet points this time) it comes after video.

I chose 3 things to talk about for this video. They are generally unrelated beyond the fact that they came up via watching IATEFL today:

  1. The (perhaps slightly odd?) way that the notion of “Teacher Development Over Time” strikes me, and why I like it.
  2. Reason #4080 why I wish I was still a full-time CELTA tutor: I could try using Slack during peer-observation in TP like Alastair Douglas describes.
  3. The influence of research on error correction for me personally does not correspond with Ortega’s characterization of it in her (fantastic!) plenary as an area of research which has failed to affect teachers and teaching.

I wrote some quick notes just before making this video. These are them clean up and expanded a bit below:

-1-The new book is “Teacher Development Over Time” by Freeman, Woodward, and Graves. That title with ‘over time’ in is weirdly striking to me! Why? Hmm..I imagine it carries with it an assumption that we’ve GOT time. It’s also echoes refreshing patience. And reassurance maybe? Despite everything, you’ve…got time. And you DO develop. 

But it somehow buzzes with background conflict too, for me. Because:

We’ve got working conditions so bad on average that nobody even wants to mention them for fear of bringing the whole partay down (we really should though). 

We’ve on mental health issues that go way beyond anything we’re doing to meet their challenge (this is something we are just beginning to talk about at conferences). 

On a related note, we’ve got big bad burnout around every corner.

And we’ve got, maybe too, this clusterf*ck patchwork of dysfunctional, impotent professional development schemes to fuel us forward OR NOT. 

I’m reminded of the (seminar? to me it is) articleDo EFL teachers have careers? by Bill Johnston from TESOL Quarterly 1997 (1997 by the way, was a really interesting year in ELT it seems to me). 

Ultimately, it’s the optimism the time suggests, I think. And I’m optimistic. So I really like it. If we can and do develop OVER TIME, we must have careers after all. And we must be as resilient, determined to keep fixing up this mess, and as INTO IT as I suspect we are. 

– 2 – 

Alastair Douglas, CELTA/DELTA trainer, spoke on the effectiveness of observation tasksAll kinds of great stuff generally about peer-observation tasks on a course.

But also, great some nichey stuff for CELTA (& similar) trainers – including: he’s been using Slack to allow peer-observering trainees to log their observation task thoughts immediately, and it all gets shared in the chat space immediately, building a thread. 

And an even more specific bit about that – based on a Q from the audience (isn’t it great to have actual, good time for productive Q & A? I’m still working on that as a relatively new presenter person!) about its effect on the F2F group feedback session that happens after TP.

Alastair talked about being very helpful. Didn’t have to ask the trainees “so, what did you think of it then?” because already know what they thought. It helped feedback get quickly past the slightly uncomfortable reporting opinions, etc.

I think simply recalling the observation – even with some written notes (honestly, if they’re millennials especially, what good are written notes even, for many?) takes up a lot of energy sometimes. So yeah. Such a GREAT innovation. 

So, in the ensuing feedback sessions he could get to more “OK, so how might we do Y different, what did you learn from Z, etc.” – more of the really important stuff! It made oral group feedback much easier. Totally. I wish I were on CELTAs right now to do this!!!

– 3 –

This is something I plan to blog about more, but in Ortega’s plenary she gave two examples of research, the first successfully impacting teachers and teaching and the other failing to do so. The success being research on motivation, and the failure being research on error correction. 

First point: I have no reason to doubt her description here. But it’s funny, because for me personally, the EC research has had a PROFOUND effect on my teaching (and teacher training work). 

What if I found that research on and related to EC actually inspired and informed a rich journey of professional self-discovery?

Second point: her putting motivation and error correction (or corrective feedback as I’d rather call it) next to each other here got my juices flowing…in my ELTresearch bites summary of a study on the sophisticated CF practices of an expert teacher I describe it as research that “spotlights two key practices which systematically imbue classroom corrective feedback episodes with engaging positivity”. What I meant by “engaging positivity” there, and what I probably could have written instead, is actually, essentially MOTIVATION. A deep kind that is maybe emergent in interaction during the act of focused study with a teacher. 

This then reminded me, too, that my very first foray into ‘presenting’ anything online or F2F was a little 15 minute contribution to a sort of peer2peer webinar thing organized by one David Deubelbeiss. It was 2012, maybe late 2011. I’d been reading as much of the research literature on CF as I could find during my time as an MA TESOL student working with Dr. Marnie Reed, who was particularly inspiring on that front.

My topic? ‘Corrective feedback as a classroom management technique”. 

The point? I don’t think everyone is missing the complexity inherent in CF!

I think people in my PLN like Steve Brown – also a presenter at IATEFL this year – have indeed been exploring things (including corrective feedback for sure) outside of the formal research vein for a good while and with a lot of energy and with a CLEAR eye on complexity. Brown’s stuff on ‘preflection’ is a great example, in my opinion. I think that outside of the formal halls, there’s an amazing array of teacher-generated co-inquiry that influences and supports and affects teachers and teaching in profound ways.

Three words I don’t end my video with but maybe should have:


(I heard Gabrielle Díaz Maggioli talking in his TEFLology interview about ELT blogs as a more-than-valid source of professional knowledge. He’s way ahead of the game IMO).

Can’t remember the session but I screenshot this today from #IATEFL2018 Twitter. Seems to go with “READ THE BLOGS” above…

Thanks for checking this out. As always, do consider leaving some kind of response in the comments section below. You have no idea how much better that makes all of this. Or maybe you do. In which case, what are you waiting for? 🙂


PS – does “thought dump” sound as bad to you as it does to me?  😛

Teacher-Centered, Part 2 (M2M Vlog #3)

Because this one logs in at 15 minutes (!) and, in it, I live up to the Ol’ Ramblin’ Noble nickname (that’s just my steez for these videos – sleek professional efforts they ain’t), I’ve listened back and jotted down the bullet-pointed basics below for the 99% of you for whom yeah that’s just not happening.

Nothing earth-shattering here as usual, but if something, anything, sparks a thought in you please don’t be shy to share it in the comment section please!

Tweet-length summary: “student/teacher-centered” are catch-all terms that carry a lot of water but I think may do more harm than good in some ways if a (naive?) new teacher like me gets hung up on the simplistic dichotomy. 

What I talk about in the Vlog vid:

  • Before I get into the topic, I get a little emotional about the very recent passing of silent way teacher and #ELTchat regular Glenys Hanson.
  • The “student-centered” vs. “teacher-centered” dichotomy *looms large* as a fundamental sense-making concept especially for new teachers.
  • As expressed in Part 1, teacher-centeredness is a ‘bugaboo’ whereas student-centerness lies at the heart of what we think of when we think of good practice.
  • In some sense (this is the thought experiment, really), “I wish I’d never heart of student-centered vs. teacher-centered“.
  • Obviously this axiomatic dichotomy is natural, useful, and accurate intellectual frame for understanding the foregrounding of learner agency in
  • Sometimes it seems like a “brittle dichotomy” more than a “dialectical monism” (like the yin-yang) which expresses a “fruitful paradox”
  • But is it a “conceptual bull in a china shop” in that it might paper over some of the (manageable) complexity that lies beyond simplistic conception?
  • The ‘-center’ word here is a killer – it does nothing at all. It’s conceptually unproductive, or worse, carries quite unhelpful associations.
  • What’s the difference between starting from a more (so-called) teacher-centered approach that can grow towards the student-centered side vs. starting on the student-centered end and developing the teacher-centered side from there.
  • Part of me wished I’d actually been trained to be (effectively, skillfully) teacher-centered FIRST, and then learned to shirt towards a student-centered approach.
  • The terms ‘student-centered’ and ‘teacher-centered’ strike me personally as anachronistic and overbearing, so I haven’t been using them for a good while especially as a trainer.
  • I don’t say this, but I think that forgoing these particularly ‘umbrella terms’ can make room for more apt and specific descriptors of particular classroom dynamics, e.g. if the teacher is talking and the students are very passively listening, calling it that, looking at why, and then exploring at how the teacher could make their explanation more engaging (or scrap it all together for guided discovery, etc.) = much preferable to simply stamping it “teacher-centered” and kind of shutting down a more open-eyed examination. Words matter. The terms we use when inculcating newbies into a whole new field of thought and action REALLY matter.
  • Finally, a livetweet from Chris Mares’ IATEFL talk reminds me of one of the things I avoided (or felt guilty about when I didn’t) for far to long because of the “teacher-centered” idea being lodged too far up my brainstem: telling (and exploiting) stories and anecdotes in the classroom!

Other notes: Part of me is embarrassed by my lack of efficient eloquence here, and wants to mention being totally exhausted after a near-sleepless night and a long, hot, very busy day today // I never once seem to actually acknowledge the value of student-centeredness in the video, and it feels weird; I found myself wondering if I come across as some kind of backwards, devolved ELTer, knuckle-dragging into his ‘teacher-centered’ classrooms or worse, promoting ‘teacher-centeredness’ to trainees. Which is weird..I think that’s just how deep it goes, how truly ‘wrong’ it feels – while in reality I essentially aspire to be a Silent Way teacher like Glenys ;P // I kind of remember – or maybe I’m imagining but it feels true – that “it was really…teacher-centered” was kind of the worst feedback you could get on your CELTA teaching practice lesson // This relates to the surprisingly common experience of CELTA trainees hearing feedback to the tune of “maybe you should have explained that more” or similar – even towards the very end of the course – and saying something like “but I thought we weren’t supposed to ‘teach’?!”, having unfortunately conflated “student-centeredness” with complete and utter “non-teacherness” // There are plenty of ways for the teacher to be “centered” in some fashion in the class and for learners to be engaged, active, and learning…or for the teacher AND the learners to be at the “center” simultaneously…so, just more reasons why I don’t like the way this dichotomy solidifies things so much the way it tends to.


I think the image on the left should also be fit inside of the circle in the image on the right and/or you just smash the two images together, see where things fall, and maybe get a more realistic visual of an actual classroom.

*I couldn’t find an original source for the image above.




Teacher-Centered, Part 1 (not a video)

I wanted to post another video but it’s late and this sleepshadowed house is just too magically quiet, too miraculously still just now; I don’t want to disturb the zen! It’s like a mirror-perfect ambrosial pond that you don’t want anything to touch and disturb the smooth surface of. The stillness is also weighted comfortably by an unseasonal cool – in my little neck of the jungle anyway (usually April in Thailand = sweat-drenched by breakfast). I just don’t dare disturb it with clangy vloggery lest the spell be broken. But I did have something I wanted to share.

It’s on the same theme as this month’s iTDi (upcoming) blog issue concerned with “things you wish you knew when you started teaching”. One thing I wish I understood better & sooner as a younger teacher is: what ‘teacher-centered’ means (and doesn’t).

A ‘teacher-centered’ dynamic, I learned early on, is something bad. Not just bad – truly horrible. Why? The mind-map around ‘teacher-centered’ includes things like boring, self-indulgent, unaware, disengaged, lecture, egotistical, misguided, unsophisticated, even cruel. Why cruel? Because by being teacher-centered you are depriving learners of the opportunity to act. They are passive, they are (I guess) DE-centered. Why egotistical? The center of attention is you.

How dare you.

Very early on, in the absence of…well, really ANY solid knowledge of a wide array of language and instructional concerns, this kind of melodramatic, broad-as-broad-can-be-stroke sense of a ‘good vs. evil’ struggle of ELT was front and center to me. I didn’t know how to teach, but it seemed like if I stayed on the bright path of ‘learner-centeredness’ I’d be okay. I’d say for me this idea actively animated my whole view of the new world I was peering into. My TEFL (B-)movie had a director and his name was Learners B. Centre. He was no Orson Wells. But he sure knew plot. It was all very compelling.

What I wish I realized sooner was that the concept of ‘X-centered’ is…

/ok, two things have happened that will make this Part 1 of 2: first, the cool stillness and the slow typing on a phone keyboard have helped 2am creep up and second, I’ve just learned that PLN member, #ELTchat regular and all-around “never met her but totally love her” person Glenys Hanson has passed away so it’s time to just think about my memories of interactions with her.

*Silent Drums* for Glenys

*My wife grabbed that drum this afternoon after my niece and step-father and I had finished practicing for a upcoming short performance at a community center. For my part I’m playing a beautiful little traditional quiet droning gong-bell…and I will think of Glenys and her elegant and knowing ‘silent way’ philosophies as I play it.

M2M Vlog #2: Wandering

First of all, thanks to Anne Hender for leaving this heart-warming and encouraging comment on my previous post where I announced I’ll be uploading videos on the blog this month:

“I like this because it means I get to see my friend’s face and hear his voice, thoughts, opinions, and life more often. I’d love to hear what happened in your day and what’s on your mind because I know there’s always something”. 

Well…I don’t need any more rationale or motivation for posting videos than that! It also makes me realize that it’s perfectly okay to just post something up even if all it is is a my face and voice, some thoughts and opinions, what happened in my day, what’s on my mind…whatever really. It’s enough, because one of the primary reasons for having this blog in the first place is that I want what Anne wants: greater connection to friends. So, whether they fall more on the muddle or maxim side of things…with Anne’s warm encouragement as our signal…we’re off and running (well, walking anyway).

Vlog #2 summary:

  • This video logs in at 5:30, an eternity in internet content time! Especially when you’re wandering and rambling…(oops)
  • I still don’t have any clear PD goal for my vlogging on this blog in April…
  • …but I’m going to post this video (and future videos) anyway 😛
  • I’m walking around my wife’s family’s rubber tree plantation, chased by at least one regiment of determined mosquitos
  • IATEFL is coming up and I’m excited for all the rich online content that is shared out of that event!
  • The TESOL convention doesn’t produce the same kind of web content. This is a shame, but there would seem to be some good reasons for this.
  • IATEFL is a more narrowly focused organization, and serves a more dispersed, international professional population.
  • I love how much teacher training/TD content comes out of IATEFL. Seems like more each year, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate (I hope it is!).

Addendum 1

Speaking of the upcoming IATEFL conference, as a member of the Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) I’d like to add a plug for the TDSIG (w/ LAMSIG) Pre-Conference Event. It’s called Personalized teacher development: is it achievable? and its rather exciting program is available here. In addition, Thursday 12 April is TDSIG’s showcase day featuring great talks, forums, and workshops related to TD. You can be sure I’ll be following all of this as best I can at a distance from my rubber tree plantation environs. 🙂

Addendum 2

In this video I mention that rubber is a large part of my wife’s family’s business. This remains true, but in recent years they have made a significant shift away from rubber as a source of income. This infographic (from here) explains why (although it shows Thai rice and Malay rubber, Thai rubber has gone the same way):


Finally, this short YouTube video gives more glimpses into rubber tapping in Thailand.

March Paragraph Diary 12

Grocer’s Inn

The Hostel in Kuala Lumpur: a 10-Act (10 Night) Play

…the script and stage direction for which has been lost in a fire (yes, a fire in the hostel).

Only the cast of characters was rescued:

The young retired Norwegian who “made his money” and is now floating around SE Asia in a drunken daze.

The group of 5 deaf men who charge around the building in nothing but skimpy briefs all day long.

The friendly Malay staff member who speaks fluent Thai and is a great conversational partner.

The Belgian flower arranger who laughs at everything, all the time.

The 65 year old Japanese backhoe operator who is fundamentally AMAZED by the very concept of a “teacher trainer”.

The 30-something Mexican man who goes around attempting to start conversations with people by simply barking the word ‘mamacita!’ a few times, always with a wide grin and an expectant look.

The Polish surfer binge watching lumberjack sports on ESPN 8 up on the roof.

The sweetest, most mindful and professional manager who seems to hold the whole scene together by some invisible force.

The American teacher trainer (teacher trainer…really?!?) on a visa run/writing retreat who, if he likes you, will definitely share one of his many, many oranges. In the play’s final scene he completes a short blog post just as he smells a hint of something burning…


Teachers’ well-being and mental health: an #ELTchat summary










(the following mis-timed page pic has been included here as a reminder that nobody and nothing we do is perfect, as teachers we do some of the most demanding and complex work out there and we all face challenges mental and otherwise that require attention, compassion, and support…let’s not hide our imperfections from each other!)




Correction: Phil’s training was with @mindcharity (not -clarity).


March Paragraph Diary 11


Writing this paragraph on my second morning of a 10-day stay in Kuala Lumpur. This city is a truly fascinating mix of Malay/Chinese/Indian/Brit/etc. cultures. I love the contrast, which is somehow high-in-look yet gentle-in-action as they all interlock with and around each other. I have a sense that this is particularly pronounced around where I’m staying in Chinatown. I don’t really know. And this post, I guess, is about that: not knowing. Being here in a new city offers ‘not knowing practice’ aplenty. A few examples of the 100s each day: I didn’t really know if there was a bus or a train from the airport into the city when I landed. I worked it out as I went and landed a block from my hostel. On the table in front of me sits a coffee. The waiter asked if I wanted my coffee ‘black or white’? I could have asked what that means. Or, I could answer without really knowing for sure and find out. “White!”. It’s delicious. Last night I had a beer at a bar around the corner. Should I leave a tip for the bartender? I didn’t really know. I walked away knowing that either way, but if someone reacted to my decision I could tell them about my state of not knowing. I didn’t know, but prepared for not knowing. I think what I’m talking about is a learning state, actually.

Each time I act without knowing I learn. I almost didn’t come into this place where I’m drinking coffee because I didn’t know enough about how it works/what they have/what would happen. It’s a really attractive place for me – big, airy on the corner, a kind of co-op of different stalls, full of every kind of human alluded to above, all doing BREAKFAST. [Would there be a UN without breakfast? Breakfast is a sacred universal. Early morning is also universally sacred (I always land on this thought when I rise before 5am as I did today) isn’t it?]. I almost didn’t come in here though. Scared of the not knowing. I wasn’t comfortable because I wasn’t sure I wanted to enter this not knowing/learning state. Not just the co-op, the state. But then I decided: I embraced the not knowing and the chance to learn. In that sense it’s actually an act of unknowing within a state of knowing! So I’ll try to stay here (in this state, not this shop) all day. Hmmm…you know, I’m not thinking ‘ignorance = bliss’ here. I’m asking a lot of questions when I don’t know something and too much not knowing is not okay. I’m not a glutton for surprises and I’m not too shy to inquire or too lazy to do my research. Preparation is power. But then there’s this simple, tiny space where little things get learned because I’m not to anxious in the face of not knowing. I think keeping spaces open for these spaces is really important (I’m certainly no OVER-planner!). I decide to walk in. And in the moment I determine whether I need to inquire more, or if I can just take a chance on the black or the white coffee – I can surf the little and medium unknowns. The coffee: such a tiny moment, but it’s much the same dynamic when facing more consequential learning/decision-making opportunities.


This is a bit of an old saw.

Rob posted this the other day just as I was arriving here and it resonated:


March Paragraph Diary 10


In earlier paragraphs I wrote a bit about my Thai leaning process and progress. I assessed my learning positively – giving myself internal feedback. I’ve gotten some external feedback in the form of complements about my ability as well. The most common being how clear my speech is. I usually respond with something self-depreciating (and true) like “it’s easy to be clear when you only know a few words / have been saying the same handful of phrases for years”.

I was given a compliment by one of my nieces about a different skill the other day: my driving. She said (in Thai): “Wow, it’s impressive that Uncle Matthew is able to drive in a different country, if it were we I’d be freaking out”. (Understanding her, I said “thanks!”, to which she responded “huh, his listening skills have improved too!”…yay, more language feedback to boot!). We’ve been borrowing my brother-in-law’s car mainly to drive up and down from my wife’s family home in the mid-south and the Bangkok suburbs where he lives. And when we’re home, here down south, I drive around on rural roads mostly. It’s easy…is what I didn’t say to my niece. I’ve had a few opportunities to drive into Bangkok proper but opted for public transportation. I’m adventurous, I’m brave. I’m not a sadist. The trip from Ken’s to home down south is essentially tie lefts, straight for 5 hours on Phetkasem Road, a u-turn and a left. Phetkasem is full of trucks but it’s not too hairy once you’re out of the industrial zones in Bangkok’s orbit. This means I’ve been able to ease in, with Phetkasem as my Thai driving classroom. It’s not the first time I’ve driven here, but it’s the most I’ve ever done. It takes a day just to really internalize the flip to driving on the left, etc. Then it takes a week to get a sense of how Thai drivers float around from lane to lane. It also takes a while to get out of the habit of yielding for pedestrians! It was my mother who mainly taught me how to drive and she stressed a full-on “defensive driving” approach. Thais typically hand amulets and flowers on the rear-view mirror for luck and protection in the car. When I hang a fresh garland (bought from a seller hawking them at a long red light) with a quick ‘wai’ and prayer I think of her who I lost in 2002 but is still with me slamming her own feet against the passenger-side floor when I get within 25 feet of the car ahead…