Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, September 30, 2005

Effortless Curriculum (Intermediate) 2.0

OK, after much brainstorming, Ive come up with a newer version of the "Effortless English Curriculum". This one is for intermediate students... Ill have a Beginners version coming shortly.

I plan to test this prototype with all my classes next semester (starts beginning of November here in Thailand).

Ive even got some goofy initials for this system... seemingly a requirement for any educational system! CCC

Confidence (Build confidence, eliminate anxiety and worry)

1. Weekly speeches (3 minutes)

Students will give a 3 minute speech every week. They will learn the Dale Carnegie "magic speech formula" (~2:40 Talk about a specific experience, :10 Tell what lesson you learned, :10 give a suggestion to the audience). The teacher will NEVER criticize or correct. Instead, the teacher will give genuine praise to every speaker... identifying what was best and encouraging the student (good pronunciation, interesting experience, great improvement, good energy, whatever). The goal of this exercise is not perfect speech... it is to build confidence... to make the students more confident about using the English they already know.

Every week, students will vote for class awards in the following categories: Best Speech, Most Improved, Most Enthusiastic. Ribbons, certificates, whatever will be given to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in each category (thus 9 students should get awards each week). Again, the purpose of this is to increase confidence... so lots of applause and congratulations and encouragement.

2. Book/Film Club

About once per month, students will make a presentation about a book or movie they have seen. This will be about 5 minutes long, and will be made in small groups (sitting down). The student will talk about their book for about 5 minutes, then the group will ask questions and have a discussion.

After everyone has presented, each group will vote for the most interesting presentation in their group (not the best speaker.. the most interesting book/movie/story). The vote winners in each group will then give their presentations to the entire class. Again, no criticism... but lots of applause, praise, awards, and enthusiasm.

The purpose of this activity is, again, to build students confidence in using English to discuss a topic. Another purpose is for students to share information about fun and interesting books and movies in English.. and hopefully inspire each other to read/watch them.

Comprehensible Input (Build vocabulary and grammar acquisition)

1. Individual C.I. (Learning) Plan (done mostly outside class)

The teacher will meet with each student individually to help them develop a learning plan. Each student will establish reading and listening goals... very specific (exact amounts to read/watch/listen to each week.... and semester). Students will be encouraged to choose a mix of understandable books, articles, comics, TV shows, magazines, movies, soap operas, songs, newscasts, audiobooks, etc.... depending on their interests.

The purpose of this is for students to naturally acquire vocabulary and grammar by reading and listening for pleasure... this also encourages student independence.

2. Teacher Chosen Articles (in class)

The teacher will read an article out loud while students read silently with him/her. After reading it the first time, the teacher will read it again, this time stopping to explain unknown vocabulary or grammar.... to be sure the students reach 100% understanding.

After this, the teacher will lead a short discussion about the issues in the article...

The purpose of this is for students to acquire new vocabulary and grammar. Also, this allows the teacher to present and explain more difficult language than students will likely encounter in their free reading and listening.

Communication (Encourage use of the language in real communicative activities)

1. Blogs

Every student will create a blog and will post 1+ pages to it every week. They will be encouraged to write about personal information, their daily life, their hobbies & interests,... and also to post learning plan updates and project updates (see below).

Students who want to improve their formal writing will be encouraged to write one formal essay a week and put it on their blog (using the "magic essay formula"). Students who want to focus on speaking will be encouraged to post MP3 podcasts on their blogs (audioblogger). And, to encourage communication, all students will be required to comment on two other blogs every week.

2. Projects (Preferably International)

Students will form teams, preferably with students in other countries, and will collaborate with them to create a project. Possible projects include: a team blog on a particular topic (with info links), a Wiki page on an interesting topic (full of links), podcasts by each team member, interviews via Skype or email, online Powerpoint presentations,... or (probably) a mix of several of these media. All projects must have a way for people to make comments about it.

All projects will be due a few weeks before the end of the semester... as students will be required to comment on the projects of other teams. Everyone will then vote for the projects: Craziest Project, Best Presentation, Best Project, Most Informative... and awards will be given.. with plenty of applause, praise, and excitement.


1. Food and Drink

Food and drink (especially caffeine!) will be encouraged. Im aiming for a "book club vibe".

2. Volunteers, Mentors, Open Classes

Ill be launching a volunteer & mentor recruiting drive as soon as I get back from vacation... hope to bring in fluent English speakers-- to join projects, provide internship/observation opportunities, drop in on classes, etc. Students will also be encouraged to bring friends and family... and all "alumni" from my classes last semester will be welcome to drop in on any of my classes.

3. Off Site Meetings

Ill try to schedule several off-site classes... probably outdoors on the Ta-Prachan campus (as it will be the cool season..!!).

4. Fun and Freaky

Ive got a number of strange and interesting surprises planned, but will not give them away here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cool Project

by AJ

Read Pum's recent update on her team's project research: The Exciting Day

For students... this is EXACTLY the kind of project update I want. I have no idea what most of you are doing. But the Ice cream team,... and especially Pum,.. have done a GREAT job of keeping me informed.

They also seem to be doing some very interesting things. Im expecting something extraordinary from them.

Read Pum's post!

A Great Student

by AJ

Teachers must change. That's the theme of many of my posts... and its absolutely true. But there is a flip side to that: Students must change too. Forget being a passive student. Forget doing what you are told, taking the exams, worrying about grades. Those things won't help much after graduation.

No... we need a new breed of student to match a new breed of teacher. In my BAS class, I have the perfect example... a great student who is taking charge of his education. His name is Hiroshi... a student from Japan studying at Thammasat.

In class and in recent emails, Hiroshi let me know that my vocabulary notebook assignment was worse than useless to him. For him, it is a waste of time. Hiroshi is also disgusted with the traditional lecture-memorize-examination system at Thammasat. He's posted some fantastic essays on these topics on his blog. Want to get a hint regarding how student's view you and your class? Read his blog!

But Hiroshi does more than voice direct and constructive criticism. He creates his own plan. He emailed me today, for example, and told me he would not be doing the vocabulary notebook assignment. Instead, he's decided to write two, three, four, or more long blog posts every week. He's also decided to read lots of books on topics HE is interested in... and then write reviews/papers/posts about them.

He wrote to me, "From my own experiences, I realize that writing a paper is in the long run still more beneficial to me than exams and vocabulary note I dislike, for my approach to life is start with the whole."

Absolutely fantastic! I shouted when I read his email... "YES!!"

This student is designing his own learning experience. In doing so, he will, in fact, be working harder than most of the other students. He will be reading far more than most, and will be writing FAR more than most. Because he will be reading and writing about things HE is passionate about, he will also acquire much more language and enjoy the process more.

Amazing and EXACTLY what I would like to get all of my students to do.

But here's the sad part. Imagine for a moment what reaction Hiroshi would get from most (traditional, boring, asinine) teachers if he emailed them and said, "I don't like your assignment so Im not going to do it... Im going to do this, this, and this instead".

Would most teachers welcome his initiative? Would they be excited by his enthusiasm? Would they encourage him and egg him on? Would they see this as a fantastic display of passion and interest and learning potential?

I doubt it. Most would have their petty little egos bruised. Many, I'm sure, would react with anger. Most would shoot him down with the favorite phrase of all bureaucrats... in all countries around the world, "You can't do that!"

How I despise that phrase.

But here's the most important point. Five, ten years from now... who is going to be more successful (define that however you like)... a student like Hiroshi, who takes initiative and gets things done on his own; or an obedient, passive, uncreative, straight A student?

The answer is obvious to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Advice To Students From Paul Graham

by AJ

Here are some quotes from an essay by Paul Graham.. in which he gives advice to University students. Paul is a computer programmer and entreprenuer... so much of his essay concerns the field of computers. I have changed the wording a bit to speak to all students:

(Parts of this essay began as replies to students who wrote to me with questions.)

Recently I've had several emails from computer science undergrads asking what to do in college. I might not be the best source of advice, because I was a philosophy major in college. But I took so many CS classes that most CS majors thought I was one. I was certainly a hacker, at least.

What should you do in college to become a good English speaker, programmer, business person, social worker, etc.? There are two main things you can do: become very good at your field, and learn a lot about specific, cool problems. These turn out to be equivalent, because each drives you to do the other.

The way to be good at your field is to work (a) a lot (b) on hard problems. And the way to make yourself work on hard problems is to work on some very engaging (interesting, exciting) project.

Odds are this project won't be a class assignment.

Another way to be good at your subject is to find other people who are good at it, and learn what they know. People tend to sort themselves into tribes according to the type of work they do and the tools they use, and some tribes are smarter than others. Look around you and see what the smart people seem to be working on; there's usually a reason.

Whatever the disadvantages of working by yourself, the advantage is that the project is all your own. You never have to compromise or ask anyone's permission, and if you have a new idea you can just sit down and start implementing it.


Of course college students have to think about more than just learning. There are also two practical problems to consider: jobs, and graduate school.

In theory a liberal education is not supposed to supply job training. But everyone knows this is a bit of a lie.

There is not a direct correlation between the skills you should learn in college and those you'll use in a job. You should aim slightly high in college.

The projects you do in classes differ in three critical ways from the ones you'll do in the real world: they're small; you get to start from scratch; and the problem is usually artificial and predetermined. In the real world, projects are bigger, tend to involve other existing projects, and often require you to figure out what the problem is before you can solve it.

You don't have to wait to leave (or even enter) college to learn these skills. If you want to learn how to deal with existing projects, for example, you can contribute to open-source projects. The sort of employer you want to work for will be as impressed by that as good grades on class assignments.

Grad School

What about grad school? Should you go? And how do you get into a good one?

A lot of my friends are CS professors now, so I have the inside story about admissions. It's quite different from college. At most colleges, admissions officers decide who gets in. For PhD programs, the professors do. And they try to do it well, because the people they admit are going to be working for them.

Apparently only recommendations really matter at the best schools. Standardized tests count for nothing, and grades for little. The essay is mostly an opportunity to disqualify yourself by saying something stupid. The only thing professors trust is recommendations, preferably from people they know.

So if you want to get into a PhD program, the key is to impress your professors. And from my friends who are professors I know what impresses them: not merely trying to impress them. They're not impressed by students who get good grades.

So the best thing you can do in college, whether you want to get into grad school or just be good at your field, is figure out what you truly like. It's impossible to trick problems into letting you solve them.

From this point, unless you want to go work for a big company, which is like reverting to high school, the only way forward is through doing what you love.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Student Feedback

by AJ

I finally got the class evaluation forms for this semester... and they contained quite a few good comments. However, this one, from my freshman fundamental English class, is my favorite:

Textbook: I hate it. I will not just say I dont like it-- I absolutely hate it!
The textbook sucks! Its boring and crap!

Suggestions: What I want is to completely change everything (let's start with the textbook)!

My feelings exactly.

But I would add more:
Lets get rid of the idiotic exam system. Lets completely change the grading system and mentality. Lets get rid of the master-servant relationship between teachers and students. Lets throw out the grammar-drill approach. Lets create euphoric English language experiences. Lets create interesting social opportunities for English use.

Semester two starts in November. I will be attempting to do all of the things in that list simultaneously. Stay tuned for updates on my successes and failures.

Friday, September 23, 2005


by AJ

I continue to contemplate the ideal role of in-class activities... (versus outside of class). Comprehensible (and interesting) input is my number one goal... I want to encourage students to find it and suck it up in massive quantities.

But given the schedule constraints at Thammasat (one or two classes a week, for a total of only three hours a week), this really cannot be accomplished much in-class. Most CI must come outside of class.. from fun books, from movies, from articles, from audiobooks, from podcasts, from conversations, from blogs, from emails......

And so Ive structured assignments to encourage this kind of reading and listening-- extra credit articles, book & film club presentations, blogs, projects, etc...

Which brings me back to the classroom. What should I do during my few hours in class with the students? I asked my students this question-- ie. "What is your number one goal for class?" and their overwhelming answer was "Confidence!"

These are intermediate+ students. They are capable of reading and listening outside of class. What they want in-class is a boost in confidence... especially in regards to speaking.

Ive mulled this point again and again and finally had an "aha" today. I remembered the most powerful confidence building class I have had in my education. It wasnt at a university. Nor High School. Nor any other traditional classroom.

Rather, it was the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking course. Over the length of that course, I got a HUGE boost in confidence. I remember my first speech-- I was terrified. My throat constricted. I couldnt look at the audience. Of course I wasnt alone... almost everyone was like that.

But by the end, we were all confident speakers... perhaps not brilliant, perhaps not perfect... but certainly confident.

Im of the firm belief that you should steal great approaches that work. So part of my in-class answer is to steal from the Dale Carnegie course. Next semester, I will require every student to give a 3 minute mini-speech to the class. Once a week, every week.

I will slowly ratchet up the challenge level. The first speech might be a 30 second self-introduction... performed while sitting at their seat. The second speech might be a 3 minute speech performed sitting down, talking to a circle of desks.

But gradually the students would progress to giving full 3 minute speeches while standing alone in front of the class..... with absolutely no notes and no memorization.

Like Dale Carnegie, my focus will be on confidence boosting. That means absolutely no criticism or critical remarks [And, of course, absolutely no correction of grammar for goddsake!!]. Only compliments and praise!!

Ill also help them improve their skills by teaching a few of the approaches I learned in the Carnegie course (how to structure a short speech).

So there it is... about half of my in-class strategy. Im still ruminating on what to do during the other half. Most likely this will be a mix of articles chosen by me, read and discussed..... book/film club (small group) presentation-discussions, one on one conferences, and a mix of unique and unexpected activities.

Might Individual Presentations Be Better?

by AJ

"Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible."

Thats another quote from Creating Passionate Users and it mirrors a phenomenon Ive noticed this semester: Individual presentations are usually better than group presentations.

The reason seems obvious-- with an individual presentation there is only one person responsible... they are totally accountable. But with a group, there is a tendency to slack off. No one takes full responsibility. I remember this same phenomenon when I was a student. I HATED group projects because the end results were always so crappy.

This does present a paradox, for in language education we want to encourage communication in the target language. The trick, I think, is to build individual accountability into group projects. Instead of one monolithic product/presentation,.... perhaps its better to design patchwork projects-- something each individual contributes too.... in which communicatin flourishes but accountability and independence remain.

Im not yet sure what the game rules of such a project would be.

BAS Monday Class Cancelled

by AJ

Apparently the office or another BAS teacher scheduled a midterm during our Monday class (without asking me).

So this Monday's class is cancelled. After your midterm exam, have a party!!

We will have class the following Monday (October 3rd).

During that class, each student will make a 5 minute presentation. You will talk about what you have learned so far this semester. You will discuss what you have read or listened to. You'll discuss who you have talked to and what you have written. You will talk about what YOU have done for your project team. You'll discuss your personal desires, aspirations, and/or goals for English (including why you are studying it). Finally, you will discuss what your plans are for the rest of the semester. The class and I will ask you questions once you finish your presentatin. The format of the presentation is up to you.

While I dont really like grades or points, Im learning that many students still need them as a motivator. So, for them, this presentation will be worth points.

Finally, I have one more request: Wear something interesting (nice, weird, fashionable, ugly) to class on October 3rd!!.... and also bring something to drink.

I look forward to seeing all of you the following Monday. Good luck on your midterms. See you in a week :)

My Own Connectivist Journey

by AJ

New ideas are growing exponentially. I feel Im being swept up by a wave of interesting innovations. Here, then, is my first hand experience of "connectivist learning". It started with a couple of links to other blogs. I began reading them. Occaisonally, those blogs would discuss an interesting idea they found on someone else's blog.

So Id check it out and discover another nest of cool ideas. Lately, this has exploded. Ive just spent several hours scouring the Creating Passionate Users blog, for example... and then spent a couple more madly writing new teaching ideas with a cramped hand.

The really uncanny thing is the way I seem to stumble on information just when I need it. Im thinking about the topic of subversion and Wham!-- there's a post on subverting. Im struggling with what to do in-class... and soon find a series of posts on creating absorbing and super-fantastic learning experiences. I start planning a web based course and English 360 has a post about their new software in development for teachers.

So I get it! My question now is... how do I get my students to get it? If I can tap them into the connectivist learning phenomenon, they will soon outgrow their need for me... which is precisely my ultimate goal.

Amazing Kickass Blog

by AJ

Gotta run to catch the van to the Ta-Prachan campus... but MUST get this link on my site right away.

I just found an absolutely amazing blog.. there's so much good stuff there that I have no time to comment on it right now-- but will certainly do so in the near future.

In the meantime, visit this blog:

Teacher In Development

One quote from the site, to whet your apetite:
"When students or course participants know where they are, and what they have to do to move forward and gain “the next superpower” - passion and motivation shoots up."

Teachers as super-heroes,... I like it!

Don't Treat All Students The Same

by AJ

Jimmy Johnson was a very successful American football coach. He won a College National Championship with the Miami Hurricanes,... and two (I believe) NFL Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. He also helped resurrect the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

At the beginning of training camp each season, Johnson gave a speech to his players. He informed them that he would NOT treat all of them the same. He told them he would be very strict and tough with some players, but very relaxed and easy with others. Why?

Because some players had a proven record of discipline, excellence, and success. He was very relaxed with these players because he knew they were self-motivated and did not require external motivation.

But other players, especially rookies or players fighting to keep a spot on the team, got a very different treatment. With them he was tough as nails. He pushed them. He did not tolerate excuses or shoddiness.

He gave the following example in an interview (paraphrased): "If Troy Aikman (Hall of Fame level quarterback) falls asleep during a team meeting, I might whisper in his ear, 'Troy, wake up'. But if a rookie falls asleep in a meeting, he is going to catch hell".

Its a popular belief in teaching that we should treat all students the same. They should all get the same tests, the same assignments, and the same treatment.

I think that is a flawed, factory approach. Students are not the same and therefore each must be treated differently. Some are like the hall of fame quarterback-- they are exceptionally self-motivated. Others are like rookies- they have potential but they need a great deal of guidance.

This analogy suddenly hit me today. Bang! I realized that most of my problems first semester came from trying to treat all students the same. When I was relaxed , loose, and "easy"... my "Troy Aikman" students responded gloriously. But the "rookies" floundered without stronger guidance. They slacked off and lost motivation.

Id see this and react the other way... try to get tougher. The "rookies" would shape up, but the "Troy Aikman" students then became annoyed, frustrated, and de-motivated.

Next semester, at the beginning of the first class, I am going to give a Jimmy Johnson speech:

"I will not treat all of you the same. If you show me that you are self-motivated.... if you display initiative and excellence,... I will be very relaxed and easy with you. I will bend or break rules for you. I will fudge deadlines, change assignments, "grade easy", and play with the "points".

On the other hand, if you show me that you are not self-motivated... if you seem to need external motivation and clear guidance... if you appear passive.... I will be quite strict. I will not bend rules for you. I will not fudge deadlines. I will not make changes. If I must, I will push and cajole you and you will have to earn every single point."


Another change I will make next semester: rather than have an "attendance grade", I will use a "get noticed" grade. Students will be able to earn the "attendance/participation" points in one simple way: If, at the end of the semester, I know their name, their goals/learning plan, and something about them-- they will get the full points. If not, they get nothing.

This is a simulation, of course.. but a bit closer to how things work outside of school. In most aspects of life, you don't get "points" (results, pleasure, whatever) just for showing up and falling asleep. Getting noticed... being engaged and involved and personable-- doing something interesting-- thats what counts.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bad Flashbacks

by AJ

Well, I say holidays but we have the usual bullshit of having to come into work to write the reports and do summer camps before they rulers deign to let us away for a couple of weeks.

-- From The TEFL Daily Grind

The bitterness. The burnout. The humiliation. The frustration.

Reading the TEFL Daily Grind is painful.... it produces very scary flashbacks.. to my first TESOL job in Korea. What misery. If you want to see the dark underbelly of this field, check into the Daily Grind on a regular basis.

Here we see the epitome of the phrase "value draining"... a system that chews up and destroys its teachers.

Its a very common phenomenon. In terms of raw numbers, these sorts of schools are by far the norm.

Which is why I exhort new teachers to be VERY VERY careful about the jobs they accept. Good situations are out there, but you've got to dig.

Connecting To Learning Networks

by AJ

From The Connectivism blog:

My classroom has transformed itself from a place where knowledge was pre-packaged for students to a place where they are now given a responsibility of creating it, where they have to participate in existing networks (class blogosphere, for example), nurture their own (Furl or del.icio.us accounts, blogs), and look for connections. Their participation leads them to formulate their thoughts and ideas, to find connections between their own views and the nodes they find around them. Once a connection is made in the form of a blog entry for example, the students have created their own knowledge - they’ve made a contribution to their own understanding and the network itself. Once they start building, they become engaged and empowered; they understand the value of community (or a network) and their own place and role in it.

Excellent. This quote points to the radical transformation on the horizon.

The old model: Windbag teacher stands in front of class and delivers pre-packaged nuggets of information from a pre-packaged textbook. Students obediently take notes and participate in drills/activities. Teacher gives exams,... to test useless, out of context, memorized factiods (ie trivia). Students memorize factoids, do well on test, then promptly forget everything. Students are bored senseless. Teacher is bored, knows the students are bored, but continues with same pointless routine.

The new model: Students engage an international learning community to seek comprehensible input, find interesting language sources, communicate, share ideas, collaborate on projects, and make friends. Students also become creators: They create and share ideas, audio, video, learning strategies, and language sources. Teacher fades from the front to the back.... acts as a resource guide and coach-- pointing students to knowledge tools and networks, answering questions, advising them on learning strategies, framing project guidelines, connecting them to volunteers and mentors, and acting as a motivational coach.... encouraging and cajoling them towards excellence & ecstatic learning experiences.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Specific Ideas For Upping My Game

by AJ

How am I gonna do it? What changes will I make next semester? How can I make dramatic improvements in my second semester of teaching at a University?

Here, in no particular order, are some random ideas:

* Physical Space. The school classrooms are hopeless. Butt ugly and not much I can do about that. So I can move some of my classes to more stimulating environments: outside, a coffee shop, the library.

* Set Incredibly Demanding Goals. Perhaps my biggest mistake this semester was equating "friendly" with "slack". In a thousand subtle and direct ways... I sent the message that I expected very little. Thats just the opposite of what I should do. Somehow Ive got to translate my own inner motivation and demanding self-standards to my students. Im always leery of doing this, but perhaps I disrespect the students by assuming they cannot handle and rise to the same standards I have for myself.

* Performance. Much of teaching is performance. You are on stage. Your voice, your body movements, your sense of pacing.. they are all vital. Im energetic and generally enthusiastic. However, as a speaker and presenter Im monotonous. My voice stays in a very narrow (though loud) range... at first jolting the students awake... but eventually lulling them to sleep like a non-stop machine buzz.

Also, when I get excited I often talk too fast and then many students cannot understand what the hell I am saying. I need better speaking and performance skills.

* More individualized coaching. Ive got to start meeting with students individually much more often. But not only that, Ive got to find ways to inspire them... figure out what they love and help them tap that for learning English. Ive got to also find a way to translate my high expectations to each and every INDIVIDUAL student.... one on one, eye to eye,...

* Re-design the in-class experience. My strengths are curriculum design, projects, and encouraging autonomy. My glaring weakness is the in-class experience. This semester I succeeded, hit and miss, with encouraging many students to do great things outside of class.

Perhaps the simplest example were extra credit articles. What I started as a throw-away means of giving extra points evolved into a powerful learning force. Students in my freshman classes started reading like crazy. Some were bringing me 5-10 articles EVERY class. I have no doubt that those students learned more vocabulary and implicit grammar from their extra credit articles than from anything we did in class.

But we do have class. However, Im still not sure what its best purpose is. How do I create an in-class Wow experience? Where do I find the simple yet powerful in-class equivalent to the extra credit articles? Hmmmmmmmm.........

* Beyond Borders
Next semester Ill launch the first international project with Aaron in Kyoto. My Thai classmates will communicate with his Japanese classmates via various internet tools. They'll form international teams and complete projects together. Likewise, one of my classes will work with one of Mick's classes in Ubon, in much the same way.

* Get Help
Ill work to create a volunteer/mentor program next semester. I hope to bring foreigners into my classrooms so that English becomes necessary for the students (and not just my desire).

* Food and Drink
Just say yes to drugs! I will encourage chemical enhancement during my classes.... Caffeine is quite a magic substance- and I plan to encourage its use.

Those are a few of my off-the-cuff ideas. I welcome any and all suggestions.

Upping My Game

by AJ

A couple of days ago I challenged teachers to answer the question: "When was the last time you heard students walking out of your class saying 'Wow'?"
(To students I would ask, "When was the last time you heard a teacher (or other students) say 'WoW' about your work?")

My unfortunate answer to that question is: NEVER !!!

Thats the gut-punching truth of it. I do not create WOW experiences for my students. Some might call them good... some not. But certainly not WOW.

In fact, I recently asked one of my classes to give me a letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) for my teaching... I got a B. In other words, good... but not GREAT.

After I got over the depression ;) I came to one inescapable conclusion: Ive got to up my game a whole lot. Incremental steps, small improvements, a little charm and energy... they just arent WOW worthy... as much as I wish they were (for it would be so much easier).

As I contemplate this goal, I first think of other individuals and organizations that are Wow worthy. I think of Tom Peters (insane energy, passion, and creativity). I think of Stephen Krashen (insanely deep knowledge of his subject). I think of Quentin Tarantino (insanely cool, fun, exuberant, and creative). I think of Bill Belichick (insanely effective). I think of great artists and performers. Great writers. Great coaches.

What they all display is an uncanny ability to stir deep longings, emotions, passions,..... they encourage a deep engagement with life.

By that standard, Im a piss-poor teacher and Im not afraid to admit it.

Free Agency

by AJ

In sports its called "Free Agency". Talented athletes have no loyalty to a particular team. No one owns them. Rather, they often shift to where the best opportunities and most money are. If a team wants the best, they've got to provide a great team environment and theyve got to pay well.

The education field is beginning to resemble the sports world. Teachers can be free agents too. Forget the days of tenure. Forget the days of working 20 years for the same sorry bureaucracy. While some bemoan the loss of "job security"... I see this as a very positive development. Sure, the mediocre clock-punchers are losing "security". But great opportunities are also opening.

These opportunities boost the demand for and the power of passionate, engaged, interesting teachers.

Here's a quote from Tompeters.com

What BusinessWeek reports about Microsoft—losing "key" talent, reminds us that the same value shifts that change [student] behaviors also change [teacher] behaviors. A growing economy creates opportunity for talent. Great talent has no reason to tolerate work that is not meaningful, organizations that don't value individuals' contributions, workplaces that are so bureaucratic they make innovation nearly impossible. A culture that breeds complacency and leaders in denial can kill a [school], but it's such a slow process that [schools] often don't feel the pain until it's too late. Microsoft is a perfect example of this.

Ive subsituted "school" for company... as I feel the exact same phenomenon will soon sweep education. As I survey the TESOL field, for example,... I find it almost laughable. The standards are incredibly low. The establised field of public and private programs is ripe for destruction. How much longer will boring, grammar-translation based, unpleasant, and ineffective programs be able to survive?

Not long I think. Its only a matter of time before new programs, new companies, new teachers overwhelm the old-school institutions. Im talking about the types of folks at Dekita.org. Im talking about the kinds of folks at The Linguist. Im talking about the design-artists folks at Wisdom 21. Im talking about the break-down-the-walls folks at English 360.

I dont think the dinosaurs at Berlitz, ECC, Inlingua, or most Universities have any way of responding to these upstarts. These boring behemoths certainly represent absolutely no competition.

And as they grow, these upstarts will increasingly attract the best and the brightest in the field. They'll draw the best free agents. And the rest will be left with an inevitable talent drain... a drain few of them can afford, as they are already so talent and passion impoverished.

I must say,... its a trend I find very encouraging.

Monday, September 19, 2005

One Size Does Not Fit All

by AJ

Im finally starting to understand. Yeah, Im a bit dull-witted at times. What can I say.

Luckily I have a voracious apetite for interesting thinkers/writers such as Dennis Littky. Littky says we must get away from standard curriculum... no more teaching the exact same thing to all students.

Today, I finally got it. At the end of class I had one on one conferences with my students. We discussed their progress with English, their activities, etc. Then I asked what they needed or wanted from me.

The answers were incredibly varied. Some students crave more speaking. They want to grow more confident with speaking, especially to foreigners. Others felt listening comprehension was goal number one for them. A few students said that academic essay writing was their number one English goal.

Some preferred to watch movies and listen to music for oral input. Others preferred reading. Some preferred CNN and other news channels. Still others felt that voluneering with the foreign buddy program was best for them.

Some were most concerned with the details and form of the English language (grammar for essay writing). Others were most concerned with practical communication. Others were most concerned with a particular topic (alternative medicine, news, travel) and wanted better English in order to learn more about these topics.

As I listened to the wide variety of preferences I realized... there's no way I can "give" all of them what they want. I cannot create ONE curriculum that will satisfy all of them by adequetely covering: listening comprehension, oral communication, news-related English, alternative medicine related English, academic essay writing, etc........

One size does not fit all. Littky is right. Thats an extinct idea. We've got to have individualized curriculae. Every students' needs and interests are different. Instead of forcing them to study things of little use or interest to them.. we've got to find ways to help them meet THEIR goals (not ours).

Today I took my first baby step in that direction. Since the academic writing group was the smallest minority.. and the one most different from the others... I gave them each a few alternative assignments: Read one academic essay per day, and write one academic essay on their blog each week. I will use "comments" to assess and rewrite a section of their essay (in standard academic English).

For those craving speaking practice, perhaps Ill have them starting doing podcast presentations every week (audioblogs)!. The readers and listeners and pop culture folks already seem to be right on track.

Tiny steps.... but at least in the right direction.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Dramatic Difference

by AJ

Educators are complacent. They've been doing the same damn thing for decades-- the same tired old factory approach. With regards to language education, they have a dismal success rate. In America, in Japan, in Thailand... its the same story. The VAST majority of students who study a foreign language never get close to proficiency. Not native speaker level. Not fluency. Just proficiency (the ability to use the language in everyday conversations).

Why is this failure tolerated? Why do we continue to blame the students? We give them grades... in fact, many of us spend a massive amount of time on evaluating, testing, grading, and sorting them. But what about us?

If students are to be graded (a practice I deplore)... then we should at least allow them to grade us. And Im not just talking about tepid "teacher evaluation forms". Why dont we let them evaluate us through the semester? Why dont we also receive a letter grade from our students.. and have to maintain a certain GPA as teachers?

I imagine that terrifies the average teacher... because the average teacher is just that: AVERAGE. Totally without distinction. Totally without audacity. The bulk of the education system (in most countries) seems to run on the maxim "cover your ass". By this, educators mean... follow the rules, fill out the paperwork, and dont do anything risky or extraordinary.

But I sense that Tom Peters is right. The ground is shifting.... and sooner or later, mediocre just isnt gonna cut it. The teacher with the best job security is not the one who has seniority and a long history of covering their ass. Job security belongs to the teacher who is remarkable... who is dramatically different. That sort of person rarely has trouble finding another job. And that sort of teacher does not fear being fired.

As teachers its time we stopped cowering like sheep-- our mission is to create "Wow experiences" for our students (using TP's terminology again). Not good. Not competent.

Wow! When was the last time you heard a student say "Wow!!" after one of your classes? (Be honest).

If your answer is the same as mine... you've got a lot of thinking to do.


by AJ

Im not a businessperson. Never have been, never will be. I just dont think like they do. Money simply doesnt inspire me. Truth be told, I find the average businessperson to be dull, greedy, emotionally retarded, and half-dead.

But Tom Peters is not average. I dont get the corporate work thing... but I do get the irrepresible passion and audactity he embodies. He inspires me. He inspires me because he manages to bring greatness, love, enthusiasm, excellence, and ecstacy to a pursuit as seeminly dry and heartless as business.

Most of education is just as dry and heartless... and so I find that Tom's message resonates just as powerfully for education.

Here are a few bullets from one of his recent rants:

* "Audacity of vision."

* "Innovation/Insane commitment to Research & Development/Insane commitment to Design."

* "INCREDIBLE "experience.""

* "Relentless "Talent Acquisition & Development.""

* "Overall/Sustaining … EXCELLENCE."

* ""WOW!""


That sounds like the outline of a school manifesto to me!

Kudos For BAS Students

by AJ

Id like to congratulate some of the BAS students for doing an excellent job on their blogs... and especially for posting to their blogs EARLY (and sometimes OFTEN).

Nice, Ploy, Pang, Tong, Tangmo, and Ploy all wrote great posts and they submitted them BEFORE Sunday. I appreciate that you did not wait until the last minute!

And a special "Great Job" to Nice and Tong... who are regularly posting more than one time each week. Im impressed by the extra effort you are making. Wonderful!

Keep up the great work... I hope other students are inspired by your efforts!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Rote Learning

by AJ

Jack Brown posed some excellent questions in recent comments to one of my posts. They were important questions, so Id like to address them... and present my ideas, in a post.

The big issue is whether repetition, rote learning and drudgery are, in fact, necessary.

I agree 100% with Mr. Brown that repetition is absolutely necessary. No one learns a new word the first time they see it (well, almost no one). You've got to be exposed to it many times... either through drills, memorization exercises, or some other means. The same goes for grammar and pronunciation.

But repetition does not have to equal drudgery or rote learning. In fact, research shows that rote learning is inferior to more pleasant methods. The most striking case is that of vocabulary acquisition and reading. Reading for pleasure is a FAR more efficient means of acquiring vocabulary than directly attempting to memorize words. In terms of words learned per minute,.... reading beats rote memorization by a wide margin (see http://sdkrashen.com for more research details). And few of us would argue, I imagine, that rote memorization is more fun than reading kids books, comics, mini-novels, and the like.

Reading provides a MASSIVE amount of repetition. You read the same words over and over and over again. Better yet, each time the word appears in a slightly different context. And so the reader learns not only a rough translation... but also the connotation and "flavor" of the word. The same is true for grammar. The path of pleasure beats the path of pain.

*Another example: My pre-K cousin Olivia has mastered basic English phonics. She did so without any kind of rote "study" or pain. How did she do it? She watched a few phonics cartoons. She found them very entertaining and so she watched them again, and again, and again, and again. She had fun, she was entertained, and she thoroughly learned basic phonics.

Contrast this with the rote-memory approach: The teacher/parent holds up a flash card of a letter and says "What sound does it make?", The child answers. If wrong, the teacher corrects them. If right, the teacher holds up another card. In five minutes both the student and the teacher are bored. Most likely, the student is also getting quite frustrated.

Once again, the path of pleasure beats the path of pain.

*An example from my own study: In the past I tried to "study" Spanish. I made vocab flashcards and studied grammar in textbooks. But I always found that my mind wandered after only 5 to 10 minutes of this activity. I simply couldnt sustain it. Im sure there are a few hyper-disciplined folks who CAN sustain this sort of activity... but they are a tiny minority.

Now I do not "study" Spanish at all. Im reading mini-novels and listening to mini-stories on CD. Im acquiring a great deal of vocabulary with absolutely no pain. Sometimes I use the dictionary to look up an unknown word.. but I never attempt to memorize it by force. I know I will see it again within the same story... and/or in another story. I get repetition, but without pain or drudgery.

I can sustain this sort of activity much much longer (free reading, free listening). For the first time in many years, Im making consistent progress (not necessarily fast, because Im busy,... but Im sticking with it week after week).

Again, the path of pleasure beats the path of pain.

*Finally, a non-language example. My Mom is overweight. She hates to exercise. Yet every couple of years she decides to go on an exercise kick. What does she do? She rides on a stationary bike.... or walks on a treadmill... or attempts to powerwalk in her neighborhood. She rarely sustains her exercise program longer than a month.

I have always exercised. Ive never had a weight problem. What do I do? I walk to school and work. I go for meandering strolls. In America, I ran often... but I didnt grind it out on a treadmill. Rather, I went for leisurely runs in the woods with my dog. If I got tired, I stopped and walked. I also played games like disc golf (lots of walking). I have never considered any of this drudgery... I find all of these activities inherently enjoyable. Do I get plenty of repetition (ie. aerobic exercise)-- Absolutely! Do I resort to monotony or drudgery-- Absolutely not!

Are there people who can stay in shape by running on a treadmill? Yes... but they are a very small minority of super-disciplined maniacs. Most people cannot sustain painful drudgery for extended periods of time (unless forced to). This is true with exercise and its true with language learning.

The path of pleasure always beats the path of pain.

Best At The Extremes

by AJ

I find it interesting that within the traditional educational systems, the best seems to be at the extremes. That is, the best education occurs in kindergarten and in doctoral programs.

Kindergarten is probably best of all. In kindergarten, most teachers know that learning and play are much the same thing. They are not artificially separated (hopefully). Much of learning focuses on projects... kids learn English as a foreign language, for example, by singing songs, playing games, telling stories, reading stories, making things & following directions, watching entertaining shows, etc.

Then they hit 1st grade and the evil begins. Fun declines, "work" increases. Learning and fun are separated... with each year after first grade widening the gap between the two. By High School, most sane kids hate school (I certainly did). True to form, parents and teachers and bureaucrats blame the kids ("high school kids just dont care about learning").

From 1st grade through university students are beat down and lobotomized. They "learn" by rote memorization. They "learn" by repeating (often erroneous) "facts" in textbooks. They "learn" by listening to boring teachers give boring lectures about topics with little relevance to their lives. They "learn" by competing for grades. They "learn" by doing what they are told.

Finally, a few make it to the graduate/Phd. level. The unlucky ones get stuck with a tyrranical major professor and suffer more of the same... obedience, humiliation, boredom.

But a few finally are encouraged to think. They find a great major professor who acts as a mentor. They are encouraged to pursue their own interests and curiousity. They take a few required classes, but the bulk of their effort goes towards a mega-project (the disseratation). The lucky ones (or defiant ones) direct their own learning and finally, at long last, rediscover some of their passion for learning. These rare few go on to be inspiring uber-geeks like Stephen Krashen and the like.

So, we do have a few models of excellence to draw from- even in the traditional system. They may be rare, but they do exist.

What we need then is a new system that combines the playfulness, projects, and fun of kindergarten with the autonomy, maturity, and research-exploration of graduate school. In other words: Kindergarten for adults.

The Industrial Age Is Over

by AJ

Littky made another great point... about restructuring schools. Our current systems are based on a factory model. Hordes of students roll down the education assembly line. Workers (teachers) see them for a short time... assemble a specialized bit of knowledge for them (English, in my case), then send them down the line to the next worker.

The students have no real connection to the teacher; and the teacher has no real connection to the students. We dont have enough time to really know them as human beings. We dont have time to explore their deep interests and passions. We dont have time to meet with them one on one on a regular basis.

Its a dehumanizing approach... students are treated like machines, not human beings. Its not great for the teachers either-- we are treated as mindless factory workers.

Restructuring (that is to say, total destruction followed by rebuilding) is imperative. Someday I may have the necessary money... and willingness to stay in one place for a while.. to create my own school. Ill do it right.

But until then, I must twist and subvert the organizations I work in.

Given the constraints of working in a traditional school... what can I do?
Some ideas:

1. Get Help! As mentioned before, Ive got too many students and not enough time to attend carefully to all of them. So I need help. I need volunteers. I need interns. I need mentors. I need partners. Finding and recruiting them is a key part of my job.

2. Individualize the curriculum as much as possible. Ive tried this a little with my BAS class. Each student created their own learning goals and plan. Every few weeks I have a short conference with each student to discuss their goals and progress. They also post to their blogs every week, so I can keep up to date with them in that way too. This has worked very well.... so I want to take it further.

One way is the open class approach I mentioned. For those (very) few students who are super motivated.. I will offer them the opportunity for lots of free classes... this way I can see those students much more often.

Ill also have more of my students do blogs.. as its a good tool for learning about them, encouraging them, practicing writing, making connections, etc...

Ill institute a menu approach for assignments... allowing each student to tailor their syllabus to their own preferences.

Ill use personal learning goals and individual mini-conferences with ALL of my classes.

3. Continuing Ed
The main reason Im prototyping an online course is to offer continuing English input for my students after they leave my class. The super-motivated ones can continue to learn after the semester ends by being in the online self-study course. In this way, I can keep in touch... and they can move towards total learning autonomy.

4. Prioritize
I hate to say it, but some classes have more potential than others... due to the constraints imposed by the school. This semester, for example: My BAS class offers the most potential. Im in complete control of the content, curriculum, evaluation, and assignments.

On the other hand, I have very little influence on my English for Russian Studies class. Another teacher determined the curriculum and evaluation. My co-teacher determines assignments and grades. Furthermore, the students are far less motivated to learn English.

I could spend equal energy on both... but I believe in picking your battles. I know I (and my students) will get a much better return on invested energy by putting more energy into the BAS class and less into the Russian Studies class. So, I tend to cruise with the Russian class... dont try much new or different.

And I focus the bulk of my energies where I will make the biggest impact (BAS class & others to varying degrees). I recommend this approach for teachers who have many classes with lots of students. You can't be everything to everyone.

5. Hang Out
The formal "I am Lord Teacher and you are lowly students" approach makes it impossible to individualize learning. I detest that mindset. One of the easiest and most effective ways to develop individual rapport with students is to simply hang out. This might take the form of in-class parties (I encourage my students to bring food and drink). It might mean after class parties or outings. It might mean a weekly "study session" for any/all interested students. In the States, a few grad school professors were fond of having a drink at a pub with their students. A coffee would work just as well with underage students. In fact, why not move the classroom to a local coffee shop every now and then?

All of these ideas... and more to come... have the same goal: to interact with students as individual human beings. Its no longer helpful or effective to treat them all the same (if it ever was).

Good business managers treat their team members as individuals and help each person reach their unique potential. Great coaches recognize and develop the unique talents of each player (can you imagine a coach who treated all players exactly the same... ie. "I know you are a striker, but you have to practice being a goal keeper too, just like everyone else").

Great teachers likewise recognize and develop the unique talents of each of their students.. and do not force them to be the same.

Thoughts On Littky

by AJ

I love Littky's thoughts on breaking down the walls between "school" and "the real world" (if we believe school is "unreal", perhaps thats our first and greatest problem). I would make one substitution though... Littky talks about "kids" and "young adults" but the concept applies just as much to adults.. to all human beings.

As my ambitions and ideas grow ever larger, Im realizing that there is no way I can do all this by myself. NO WAY. Im naturally lazy, after all... but that has its advantages. It means Im always trying to get more accomplished with less effort.

Littky is right on track. There are two ways to break down the walls. One is to bring the community into the classroom. This can be done by inviting visitors and volunteers. It can be done by encouraging students to bring their family and friends to class. It can be done by creating mentor programs. It can be done with "open classrooms" (next semester Ill invite any of my students to attend any/all of my classes, as they wish).

The other thing to do (in addition) is to get students out of the class. This is done with projects that nudge them outside. Its done through internships, observation practicums,.... and even traditional "field trips". Its done through internet collaborations (especially international ones).

Both are necessary. I admit its a bit tougher to organize some of this as a foreigner in Thailand who does not speak Thai. I could do it very easily at home... but Im still trying to figure out how to attract/recruit mentors, volunteers, internship partners, and the like here in Bangkok.

Perhaps I should start with the students families? Send something home with them... ask them to recruit their Moms, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, and Siblings for mentoring, internships, observation practicums, guest speaking, interviews, and the like.

Ill do my best, and am confident that at least some of the attempts will work (ie. the collaborations with teachers/students in Ubon and Kyoto).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thoughts From Dennis Littky

Importance of Close Contact and Advisement

There are many variations on the advisory system, from where kids meet with the same small group of students and adult every morning to “check in,” to the way we do it at The Met, where the entire school is divided into advisories of small groups of kids (I like 14) and one adult who stay together much of the day through all four years. I know that the way we do things at The Met is unique and may not be possible in all
schools. But I also know that setting up a system where students have a consistent environment where they are able to truly connect with a small group of kids and one adult can radically change their entire schooling experience.

Blur the Lines, Break Down the Walls

We can move forward when we realize that schools can’t do it alone, and should not be
required to do it alone. Lines between school, family, business, community-based programs, higher education, housing and health care need to be blurred. Young people don’t learn and grow in the bubble of school. Their healthy (or unhealthy) development occurs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

My Teacher

by AJ

Hiroshi has written another thought provoking post on his blog-- regarding the nature of knowledge. He questions the value of knowledge that is second hand.. the kind most of his teachers are shoving down his throat.

Ive posted many times on this subject.. on my other, more radical blog. Hiroshi is absolutely correct. "Knowledge" is useless without direct experience. We are becoming a society of mediated drones. People pay more heed to second hand "knowledge" than they do to the direct experiences of their own lives. They go crazy about media spectacles in "the news"... but ignore the care and feeding of their own souls.

Its great to hear other people's opinions. Its great to learn from other people. But all wisdom must come from experience. Without experience... "knowledge" is nothing but brainwashing.

My most important message to my students is this: TEST EVERYTHING. NEVER accept "knowledge" without experience. Never believe that your teachers know more than you do. Never believe that they are "better" or "superior".

Ill let you in on a secret... most of your teachers are clueless idiots! Does that seem too harsh? Well, consider this... I am teaching you how to learn a foreign language.. yet I cannot speak any language other than English!

And Im probably more open and flexible than most. Many of your teachers are simply passing on information that they were given by another teacher. Many have never examined this information.... never tested it... never questioned it. They dont like YOU to question them because it might expose their lack of experience and depth.

So... listen to what they have to say.. but consider what they tell you only as interesting THEORIES... things to be tested and questioned by your own direct experience. Or, if the information is useless to you... realize its useless, do what you need to do for the test, and then forget it.

I believe Gandhi had an excellent attitude towards knowledge and life. He described his approach to life as "experiments with truth". He was always experimenting with his life. He was always trying new EXPERIENCES... not just memorizing other people's "facts". He always wanted to test things directly.

I encourage you to do the same. Experiment with your life. Base your wisdom and strength on direct experience. Dont accept what others tell you without question. Always question.

Im trying to follow this advice myself. In fact, I consider Hiroshi as much my teacher as I am his. I like that he questions everything. I like that he challenges. I like that he encourages me to examine myself and what Im doing in the classroom.

This is as it should be. Every "teacher" should also be a student. Every "student" should also be a teacher.

No more command and control. No more obedience and blind acceptance.

Before all else... trust the dignity of your own experience. Trust yourself. Question.

Brazilian Student's Blogs

by AJ

To visit the blogs of Bee's Brazilian students... go to this address:


This page has a link of all the student's blogs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


by AJ

Its full speed ahead on collaboritive projects. Mick (in Ubon) and I are slowly brainstorming about a joint project between two of our classes next semester. Aaron in Kyoto is ready to go now.. so his presentation tech. class and my BAS class will be doing a joint project together.

Mick and I have discussed using a forum and file hosting website as the communications hub for our classes... perhaps Ourmedia. He and I could upload text, audio, and possibly video to the site. Students might also be able to do this. They could team up using the forums... plus whatever other tools they preferred (blogs, email, chat, Skype, cell phones....).

Aaron has already created a Moodle site for our collaborative project... and it looks great. We're still brainstorming on the details.. but Ill post them here once we get something worked out.

These two projects illustrate, to me, the revolutionary power of the internet. We have fantastic tools at our disposal now. Maybe boring textbooks were necessary decades ago (though I doubt it)... but now, there's no reason to rely on them. Students and teachers can get authentic (ie. not contrived for language students by publishing companies) language quite easily. They can access audio files of native speakers. They can talk to other students around the globe. They can make internet friends with Americans, Brits, Aussies, etc. They can access a huge amount of web text content. They can access free online dictionaries at the same time.

And now Skype, Google, Yahoo, and others have created the opportunity for FREE international phone calls. Ring your friends in Japan and America... and talk for hours!

Teachers can now create projects and courses which tap the oft-stated goal of internationalization. Forget talking about it.. do it! When your Chinese student needs to communicate with her Thai and Japanese project partners... she'll quickly understand the benefits of acquiring English. Now she has a compelling reason to communicate with real human beings from other countries. What an opportunity! We should exploit it as much as possible.

This is another way in which we can "break down the walls" of the classroom. Our classroom can now envelope the entire world. Our students can have classmates in Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, Iran, India, and Thailand...

The world is open to us now... Lets seize the opportunity!

You're Ugly!

by AJ

Well, Ive gotten some blunt feedback allright, but not about my teaching. Rather, several students and friends have told me to get rid of the picture I was using for this site.

Some comments: "You looked washed out", "You look old", "It looks like an ID picture", and "Your're a good teacher but you sure are ugly"

OK, Im kidding about the last one. But to satisfy the chorus of discontented readers, Ive changed the picture. I know its not great either... Ill try to get someone to take a good one some day. Maybe the answer is not to use a picture of me... but rather something that represents the "wu wei" idea... something "zen-like"???

Any suggestions?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Feedback Fanatic

by AJ

Ive become a feedback fanatic.

Most teachers go out of their way to avoid student feedback. They dont want to know what the student's think of them... and they most definitely dont want to be evaluated by the students. They are quite comfortable to maintain the illusion of authority and superiority.

But that is not only a lie... its shabby teaching. How can you improve if you shun student's honest feedback. Id walk 100 miles to hear one brutally direct, heartfelt, honest criticism of my teaching. I WANT to hear those opinions. How else will I improve? Otherwise, Im teaching in the dark.

Here's a reality check for most teachers: We are doing this for the students.. and that means WE serve THEM... not the other way around. They are the ones paying, they are the ones who we should ultimately aim to satisfy (not some jackass bureaucrats and certainly not our own egos).

Feedback is crucial. And to get it, we've got to earn the trust of our students. Theyve been swindled, bullied, and beat down by arrogant assholes called "teachers" for most of their life. Thats a lot of accumulated mistrust to overcome.

The first step is to acknowledge your students as equals and treat them as such (in the case of learning a foreign language, my students are clearly superior to me... and I have no problem admitting that.. my job is to bring out their greatness, passion, and potential... not to lord it over them as an insecure tyrant).

Friday, September 09, 2005

Online Course Media Hosting

by AJ

I think Ive found a solution for hosting audio, text, and even video for the free online course: OurMedia.org.

Ive created an account and a group with them and will now be able to store articles, audiofiles of me reading the articles, and maybe even video files of me teaching some on-campus classes-- all for FREE (the magic word)!

The "Effortless English" Online Media will be hosted at:


Ive already got a Google Groups account for "Effortless English"... so the bare requirements seem to be in place.

OurMedia.org also seems like a good possibility for organizing international collaborative projects. Each group (of collaborating classes) could have their own Ourmedia group..... the participating teachers could add audio, text, and video files to the group. Students could communicate via the forum (and also email, Skype, blogs, etc.).

Im looking forward to this interesting experiment.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Free Online Self-Study Mini-Course

by AJ

Ive decided to try something new next semester. I will create an online
mini-course that will run alongside one of my regular in-class courses. This
mini-course will act as a self-study guide for those who wish to continue to improve their English by studying on their own.

Here's how it will work:

- The class will start in the beginning of November.

- Each participant will develop a set of weekly learning goals.. then
email them to me. I will provide suggestions and guidelines on this website

- Each week I will post a newspaper article or a segment of a book
chapter on my website. I will also read this article and post it on the
website using audioblogger. This way, online students can read and listen to
the article at the same time... thus hearing my pronunciation. Ill explain
key vocabulary at the bottom of the article. Ill also try to find links to
(free) online dictionaries so you can look up words yourself (Thai-Eng,
Jap-Eng, Spa-Eng). If you know of a good online dictionary (free), please
email the link to me.

- I will provide a list of recommended readings.. the same ones I will
use with my on-campus class.

- I will provide a list of recommended movies..(using English
subtitles).... the same ones I will use with my on-campus class.

- Optionally, students will be encouraged to keep a new vocab notebook
and to choose vocab goals for the week and the semester.

- Each online student will create a blog. They'll post one page or
more each week... and will comment on two blogs (other student's) each week.
Ill put links to these blogs on my website. Ill check every students blog
once a week or more and leave comments. In addition to any personal
information, each week the online student will post about their learning
progress... how well they are doing on their weekly goals.

- I will investigate Meetup, Skype, and other options for free
international voice meetings... Id love to host a meeting once a week that
would allow online students to chat with me and each other.

- Online students will have the option of joining one of the Project
Teams of my on-campus class. These teams will work together on a project
topic of their choice (I will provide more details once the class starts).

I need to investigate the technology options to see what I can do... specifically, I need to check the details of audioblogging, meetup, Skype, etc.

If you want to join the online class... or just want updates when I send them, please join the Effortless English mailing list at: http://groups.google.com/group/effortlessenglish

Ill send details about the course sometime in October. The course will start the first week in November.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More Praise For Passionate Rebels

by AJ

Hiroshi made my day today. I will be smiling for the rest of the week.

But Im also disturbed by his challenge. Because its quite a challenge for teachers. He's saying that boring classes are no longer tolerable. He's saying that memorizing irrelevant facts is no longer tolerable. He's saying that bullshit exams and useless letter grades are no longer tolerable.

He's right, of course. But that puts a BIG bullseye on teachers. For what Hiroshi is saying is that not only are boring teachers intolerable... so are "good" ones. When I read Hiroshi's post, I sensed a demand for greatness. He wants inspiring teachers. He wants teachers who dig deep.

I'll be honest... his post scared me a little. I certainly want to be remarkable and great... but Im not yet. So my first reaction to his post was to ask, "How do I inspire? How do I embody greatness? How do I nurture greatness in my students? How do I make a quantum leap in my teaching?"

Hard questions... to which I have no satisfactory answers at the moment.

And so I put the challenge to you-- the teachers and students who read this blog:

How can teachers embody and inspire greatness?
(And I dont mean "very good"... I mean "Greatness")

Tough Questions!

by AJ

Hiroshi (in my BAS class) wrote a blistering post today... a challenge to teachers and the field of education. He asks a lot of great questions- ones that should not be dismissed.

I gave him a quick comment, but Ill be thinking about his post for many more days. Ive got my fair share of righteous indignation as well, so Im quite fond of Hiroshi. He's not afraid to state his opinions directly and strongly. That makes him remarkable. He is definitely not an average student!

Hiroshi is the future. No more obedient students and "workers". No more sleeping drones. No more passive learners. Shout! Demand! Take control of your education and learning! Learn from Hiroshi.

Read his post and leave a comment at: http://www.hiroshihawaii.blogspot.com/

Monday, September 05, 2005

Free Points BAS!

by AJ

Today I urged my BAS class to be remarkable. Not normal. Not boring. Not "very good".

Remarkable. Outrageous. Daring. Great! Thats what Im looking for. Thats what Ill be urging you to do everyweek. That is your mission.

It is also my mission. I too want to be remarkable. A remarkable teacher. But right now Im average. Just as you want my help as students... I need your help as a teacher.

To start: I NEED you to let me know when you do not understand me. If you dont understand you are not learning. And if you are not learning, I am failing! That makes me a very bad teacher. Terrible.

So.... I urge you to raise your hand ANYTIME you cant understand me. Raise your hand if I am talking too fast. Raise your hand if Im using words you dont know. Raise your hand (again and again if necessary) if you dont understand my explanations.

Anyone who does this will IMMEDIATELY receive one point of extra credit.... Ill put it in the book right away! Im 100% serious about this.

If you have a deeper or bigger problem, then please talk to me or email me about it. To show you Im serious, I will also give extra credit points for this. The more direct your suggestion.. the more points you will receive.

So if there is something you hate about the class, or something you think would be helpful... TELL ME!!! I will reward you for doing so :)

You are a great class and I respect your opinions. Share them with me.

BAS Homework

by AJ

Here is the homework for next Monday:

1. Bring an article (related to your project) and present it to the class: Summarize the article, introduce new vocabulary, and tell us the main ideas. Then lead a discussion about the main ideas.

2. Blogs: As always, write at least one page and comment on at least two other blogs. This week, if you want to, write about dating and relationships. What is your experience with these? What is your idea of the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend? What is most difficult about dating? What do you want to know about dating?

Also, please include a short update on your goals: how many words in your notebook, how many movies watched (Eng with Eng subtitles) so far, how many articles read, how many chapters of Harry Potter (or other books), progress on your project, etc.

3. Bring food and drinks to class on Monday. Extra points for caffeinated drinks :)

4. Comment on one of the Brazilian students' blogs at http://beeonline2.blogspot.com. The students' blogs are on the right side under "2005 Blogroll". If you get a Brazilian friend... or boyfriend... you get extra credit points (Im only half joking :)

5. Finally, bring Monday's Bangkok Post to class.. we will be reading it.

Remember: Not normal. Not "very good". Remarkable!!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Kick Ass Blogs:BAS

by AJ

This weeks awards for incredible blog posts goes to the following students:

Blue, Thip, Tong, Pang, Jenny, May, Koy, Nice, and Wow.

These students are doing a remarkable job... more than just the minimum. Their blogs look good. Their posts are on time (by Sunday at 6:00pm, remember?). And they are writing a page or more usually. Also, they are writing about both personal stories and their progress with English. Its a great idea to write about both.

Some of these students are posting more than once a week and are commenting on many more than 2 other blogs. Congratulations. Im impressed. Keep doing great work.

Keep inspiring us all!

[PS: Where is Nut's blog ??]

Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: part 5

by AJ

If "content is king"... if "fascinating topics" are crucial... why are we still reading boring articles in class? I imagine that thought is going through every one of my students' minds who reads this blog.

Ive thought about that question alot and I cant think of a reasonable answer other than, "I was afraid to go all the way with this idea". But that fear is evaporating and I realize Ive got to do more than write or yammer about these ideas.

Another problem is that its not necessarily easy for me to know what fascinates most Thai University girls aged 18-22 (the bulk of my students). It has taken me some time to figure this out.

My conclusion is that the number one topic of fascination is relationships & dating. Romance, heartbreak, the differences between girls and boys, dating challenges, love, etc. seem to fascinate most of my students. Whenever I ask a class what TV show they'd like to watch in class, "Sex and The City" is always the big vote winner. Romance movies are equally popular.

This is true even of my difficult Russian Studies class. The first video I showed them was "Supersize Me". Its a video that certainly fascinates and amuses me. It engaged some of them, but many were not terribly interested. However, the last few weeks we've been watching Dr. Zhivago- and almost everyone pays attention. Perhaps its because it is set in Russia... but I doubt it. Rather, its an engaging love story and that fascinates them.

A second big topic of interest... somewhat related... is the issue of women's equality and leadership. Thai society is changing. Women are on the rise. Women are now dominating the universities. Most of my students seem eager to exploit opportunities... and also to discuss the remaining discrimination they face. Discussions about these issues have always been energetic and interesting.

Thirdly, the book club presentations were a huge hit. The secret here, of course, is that THE STUDENTS chose their books, not me.

And finally, the "project game" has worked very well. By adding an international element to this assignment (collaborating with students in Japan)- it should become even more powerful.

So there you go.... a recipe for a class: Dating and gender issues, a book club, and compelling international projects. Thats what I should be focusing on. Thats probably what most of our English classes should focus on.

But what are we doing instead. In the freshman classes, their first required reading was "The Godfather". Not exactly a romantic movie popular with young women!! Who chose this book? My students universally hated it. Now, I happen to love the movie.... but Im a 37 year old American man. My guess is that another 37+ year old Western guy chose this book. Clueless.

And what sorts of required articles are we reading in the freshman classes? Lets see, two weeks ago we read an article about the ice cream manufacturing process in factories. It included such useful vocab as "globules" and "polysaccarides". I LOVE ice cream,... but this was the most boring article Ive read in a long long time. It was torture for ME... much less my students.

Last week we read an article about the dietary habits of pre-Mezolithic people in the British Isles. Wow... exciting stuff for an 18 year old girl! And not only was the topic amazingly boring.... it was badly written... incredibly obtuse and repetitive. I AM fascinated by natural history and yet this article bored the hell out of me too.

This is madness. Plenty of useful vocabulary... and all the needed grammar structures... can be found in articles about romance, dating, relationships, marriage, gender issues, women's leadership, free reading books, etc. So why arent we reading those?

Well, next semester thats exactly what my classes will be doing.

They will read articles and recommended books by:

Leo Buscaglia, Beverly Deangeles, Steven Covey, Candace Bushnell, Tom Peters, Sark, Bill Furgusson, John Gray, Toni Morrison, Bonnie Jacobson, Ken Blanchard, Seth Godin, bell hooks, Anthony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Tata Young,.....

They'll watch TV shows and movies such as:

Sex and The City
Notting Hill
Love Actually
Shakespeare In Love
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
French Kiss

They'll participate in a book & film club- reading and watching content that THEY choose.

And they will complete projects (on topics of their own choosing) by working with students of other countries.

Open Classes

by AJ

Starting next semester, I will institute an open class policy in all my courses. What this means:

1. Any student in any of my classes may attend EVERY other class I teach. Ill distribute my schedule to all classes. Students who want extra English practice can come to any class they want (in addition to the one they are registered for).

2. Bring your friends: Ill encourage students to bring friends to class... especially foreign friends or friends wanting a bit of extra English practice.

3. Ill actively recruit foreign volunteers to join my classes... providing them, and my students, with social and language opportunities...

Will any of my students take advantage of these opportunities. I dont know.. maybe not. But its a nice gesture nonetheless.

This idea was inspired, in fact, by a stowaway in one of my freshman English classes. One day I was taking roll and counting students and realized that there was an extra student somewhere. The stowaway sheepishly raised her hand..... she was a friend of one of the registered students who wanted to join for some extra English practice (and to socialize with her friends).

I guess she was afraid Id kick her out... but I chose to welcome her enthusiastically. She's still coming to class. That got me to thinking... what if I could tap foreigners, friends, and expats to liven up my classes, create a buzz, and design a more international experience for my students?

Next semester will be my first prototype attempt at just such a strategy.

Implicit Learning

by AJ

I have been naturally and effortlessly acquiring knowledge about an extremely unnatural topic (for Americans): English "soccer". This is a freakish occurrence. Americans simply are not interested in professional "soccer"... much less "soccer" played in another country.

Yet, somehow, I now know the names of the stadiums for Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Man U. I know many of the major teams and players in the league (and the English national team). I know what a "sweeper" is. I know the names of many of the coaches. I understand the basic mechanics of the Champions League. Im even beginning to understand the offsides rule. While non-Americans will consider this unremarkable... I assure you its very very rare knowledge among my countrymen.

So, the question is, how have I learned all of this? Did I study a list of the Priemere League teams? Do I memorize the rosters? Did I study the rulebook? Have I made a great effort to learn this information?

Absolutely not. In fact, it has occurred completely by accident... no only effortlessly, but almost involuntarily. In Thailand, they love English football. The sports section of the newspaper is continually filled with articles about the games, players, coaches, strategies, controversies, etc. At first I ignored these articles. Then, one or two caught my eye and I casually skimmed them. I continued to skim them here and there..... as I learned a bit, my curiousity was tweaked. I began to read more.

And now, I regularly read every article in the sports section about English football. I even catch a game on TV now and then.

Ive learned what I know (a lot by American standards.. not much by Thai or English standards) simply by casually reading for curiousity's sake. Through this simple and effortless process Ive acquired knowledge about the rules, the players, the stadiums, the colors, the history, the finances, and the controversies of the sport. Ive even picked up some incidental knowledge regarding the Spanish and Italian leagues.

This is the power of "free voluntary reading"... or "implicit learning". When the content is fascinating, no effort is needed. And it works for learning a language as easily as it does with English football.

The key... THE NUMBER ONE KEY.. to successful language acquisition... is content. Not grammar. Not technique. Content.

Content must be understandable. Thats requirement number one. If its too difficult, most (90%+) wont bother reading or listening to it... and wont learn much even if they do. Choose material thats easy to understand (you should understand 90% or more of the words/phrases).

The second important requirement is that content must be fascinating. Not "mildly interesting". Not "serious". Not "important". It must be incredibly fascinating TO YOU. English football is fascinating to me... so I now read about it all the time. Tennis is NOT and so I always skip the tennis articles. I still dont understand what the hell "love" is.

So choose books, TV shows, movies, audiobooks, conversation partners, etc. that are extremely fascinating to you. If you are wild about boys and dating... then read about dating. Watch romances. If pet toads make you crazy with excitement... read and listen to target language content about toads. If manga, comics, and anime are super-cool to you... focus your langauge learning efforts on those.

If you love mysteries... watch and read mystery stories. The key to effortless acquisition is in choosing content carefully. DONT force yourself to read/listen to a lot of crap you dont care about. Dont memorize vocabulary lists. Dont, for goddsake, study grammar books. Throw away the textbook (if you can read this post, you dont need it). Dont even read boring or difficult books because they are "important" or "necessary" or "difficult".

The first step towards effortless acquisition is to identify those things that excite you. What do you think is super-cool? What makes you emotional? What demands your attention? Once you figure that out.. its easy. Find books, comics, movies, TV shows, people, audiobooks, internet sites, magazines, and articles about those subjects... in your target language.

[If your target language is English... its very very easy to find these materials]

Saturday, September 03, 2005


by AJ

Just want to congratulate Nice & Tong for also doing a lot of comments. You are doing a fantastic job!

International Collaborative Teams

by AJ

Aaron in Kyoto, Mick in Ubon, and I are slowly working out the details of an international collaborative project between our classes.

Its an exciting idea.... one with great potential (although its bound to be a bit difficult to organize in the beginning). The collaboration will allow students in Thailand and Japan to work together in project teams. They will communicate regularly, plan their projects together, and produce a finished "product".

All the while they will be using English via email, blogs, chats, and Skype. They might even make new friends. What I love most about this idea is that the assignment makes English desirable and interesting. I dont need to say "Please speak English" or "Please don't speak Thai". Rather, we create a situation in which using English is useful, necessary, and interesting... a chance to work with people of another country.

I view this first attempt, with Aaron's class in Japan, as a prototype. Its a chance to discover the challenges, work out kinks, find what works, and then fine tune. With luck, this is an endeavor that will improve and expand in the future... hopefully to embrace more students in more countries.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lessons of Marathon Training

by AJ

From the age of 16-27 (supposedly my "peak" physical years) I hated to run. Every now and then Id go out for a 2 mile run. Every time, I was miserable. Running, to me, was an exercise in pain and frustration.

At the age of 28, I bought a book on long distance running by Jeff Galloway.. a marathon runner. I was thinking of giving running one more try because I wanted to maintain a decent fitness level.

Halfway into the book, I realized what I had been doing wrong all those years. One of Galloway's statements turned the lights on: "Most runners run too fast when they run long distances". He, by contrast, recommend the Slow Run as the cornerstone of a training plan.

I gave it a try and WOW! The entire experience of running was transformed. No more panting. No more red face... on the brink of heat stroke. I slowed down and relaxed and suddenly running became pleasant. After a few months, it became fun. And after a few more months, it became addictive. So addictive that I decided to train for a marathon. And here's the really interesting part: I got faster. Without trying to, I got faster.

I didnt even realize it. I felt like I was expending the same amount of energy (I probably was)... but my body was gradually getting stronger and so I could go faster with the same amount of effort.

How did I increase both my speed and distance? How did I complete my first marathon? Here's what I didnt do: I didnt run long distances everyday. I didnt suddenly increase my mileage. I didnt do windsprints. I made no effort to "run fast"... in fact, I consciously ran slower than I thought I should.

I ran slow. In the beginning, I ran very very slow. But each week I ran just a little bit farther. Most days I ran only 3 miles. But once a week I did a long run... I added one mile to this run every week until I hit 26.

And so I successfully completed my first marathon in Atlanta.

There are language lessons here.

In language education, we are often guilty of training for the wrong race. Learning a foreign language takes time. Its a marathon.

Yet we often get trapped in a sprinters mentality. Like my first attempts at running, we go for "intensity" and speed. We think studying must be intense. We think we must learn as quickly as possible. We think we need to expend great effort.

And most of us burn out... we never finish the marathon because we are pushing too hard, trying to go too fast, and wearing ourselves out.

I recommend a different approach... which I call "effortless acquisition". It mirrors the way I trained for my first marathon. I recommend deliberately going SLOWER. Thats right... relax! Slow down.

Focus on consistency, not intensity. Do only what feels effortless. Most of us, for example, can effortlessly manage 5 minutes of reading a day. So read in English for only 5 minutes a day. When that feels super-easy, give 10 minutes a day a try.

Do that 5-6 days a week until it too feels effortless. Then go for 15 minutes.. perhaps doing 10 minutes of reading and 5 minutes of listening to an audiobook. Every few weeks, increase the amount of time until it starts to feel like "work"... then cut back stay on that schedule. Never allow it to feel like drudgery.

Likewise, I recommend deliberately choosing EASIER materials than harder. Read books in English that are easy for you. Listen to audiobooks that are easy to understand. After a month or so... try something JUST A LITTLE BIT more difficult (but still quite easy).

Continue on like this... increasing the difficulty level just a little... never (or rarely) choosing anything that feels difficult or unpleasant.

In this way, you will enjoy learning the language. You may find it becomes fun. You might even find it becomes addictive!

As a professional English teacher with a Masters degree, this is my best advice: Relax. Take it easy. Go slower. Enjoy yourself.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

BAS Student Blogs

BAS stands for "British and American Studies". They are first year students at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. Most are between 18-20 years old. They are intermediate and above in English ability.

The BAS class meets once a week... for three hours every Monday afternoon. The course started in mid-August and will continue until the end of December.

Below is a list of links to their blogs. Please visit them and comment. If you are a student with your own blog... please leave them a link to your site and invite them to visit!!


Ploy Pony Popcorn's blog!


Tangmo's blog (student # 4806640332)! To comment, you will need to create an MSN account- it only takes a minute.


Blue's blog (student ID: 4806641124).


Thip's blog (student ID: 4806640548)


Tong's blog (Sasiampai Maipoka). You will need to create an MSN account to comment on Tong's blog.


Pang's blog (student I.D. 4806640472)


Jenny's blog (Aunyarat Tandamrong)


Koy's blog (Challika Yimyong)


Yim's blog (4806640381)


May's blog (Suttinee Sribenjachote)


Wow's blog (4806640803)


Ploy's blog (ID. 4806640183)


Job's blog (Pornsakorn Vejjabul)


Arm's blog (ID 4806640944)


Pat's blog (Pathaka Tangchutongchai)


Pum's blog (Punwadee Pangrusmeesophon)


Nice's blog (4806640910). Need to create an MSN account to comment (takes only a minute).


Ohm's blog (4806640928).


Hiroshi's blog