Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, December 30, 2005


by AJ

One of my big lessons from last year was the importance of transparency in the classroom. By this I mean sharing as much information with students as possible. In the past, I came to class with my book and lesson plan.. then dutifully worked through it. And the students dutifully followed my lead.

But this year I was more transparent. I talked to students about my teaching philosophy and methods. I shared language acquisition research with them and discussed it. I explained not only what I was doing in class, but why. Just as importantly, I asked questions and I listened..... about their needs, their experiences, their frustrations.

Its important for students to know this information and to communicate with the teacher/tutor. To become autonomous, they must understand the process of learning... and should have at least a basic understanding of the research.

Also, I found that when they understood my methods... the methods worked better.

Unfortunately, I have not been so transparent with my new class.... as real life concerns (ie. imminent homelessness:) overwhelmed and distracted me last month.

But next month I plan to correct this mistake. Ill explain in more detail the process of TPR Storytelling.... what the steps are, why I will ask so many questions, how the students can maximize the effectiveness of the lesson, what research supports the technique, what my goals are for the lessons... and what their goals are. Ill share TPRS articles... and excerpts from books and research. Ill discuss the students ideas about the technique... what works for them... what doesnt.

In doing so I hope to move from a leader-follower relationship to a more collaborative one..... in which we work together to build the students' English proficiency.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Feedback Is Tricky

by AJ

Another great post over at Creating Passionate Users:

"So how can we hope to learn anything about what our students want and need if the very act of answering a question could change their answer? We have to get better at making inferences from what we observe without intervention. We have to get to the spirit of what we observe, rather than focusing on the specific details. We have to recognize that what they do says much more than what they say, especially when they're not saying anything at all."

Kathy Sierra calls this the "Quantum Mechanics of Users".... for in teaching, as in Physics, the act of observing/measuring something changes it.

Which goes a long way towards explaining the utter uselessness of traditional "teacher evaluations"..... as well as focus groups and other highly contrived attempts to gather student feedback. The problem: the act of administering these measures warps the students responses. In most cases, this has the effect of unconsciously prodding the students to tell you what they think you want to hear. You get the occasional suggestion... and a whole lot of vague nothing: "good class", etc.

Often, they even contradict their true feelings. In relaxed conversations with students... those that I have built rapport with... Ive never had one tell me "I wish we would learn more formal grammar rules". Ive also talked to my foreign friends (who are not in my classes) and asked them about how they learned English, what was wrong with their English classes, and what was right. In every case they complain about the focus on grammar rule memorization and translation.

Yet, if you give them a formal survey and direct them with questions such as "How important is grammar instruction?",... you will often get results that indicate a strong desire for formal grammar instruction. This can seem baffling.

But Sierra's post clears up much of the confusion. She's 100% right... the act of measuring and analyzing causes students to change their answers. Ie. No such thing as "objective" measures. In fact, those that are considered most "objective" (ie formal) may cause the most distortion.

Sierra calls for more naturalistic and anthropological means of gaining feedback... methods such as observation (ie. taping class), informal conversations, participant research (become a student yourself), careful listening between the lines, etc... These methods can also distort students' responses but they seem to do so in a less dramatic way.... and thus provide more useful information to teachers and admins.

So throw out the clunky surveys and forget the "focus groups". Become a student anthropologist.

One More Plug For Recording

by AJ

Ive written about this before... but it bears repeating: If at all possible, record yourself teaching. Audio, or video, or both. I cant stress enough how useful and educational this is.

We all have a distorted self-image. We often imagine we are more effective, more interesting, and more powerful in the classroom than we are. Its easy to do. After all, we are native speakers and our students are not. The language naturally seems easier to us... the repetition becomes boring for us more quickly. Its very easy to misjudge the students comprehension and needs.

Likewise, its easy to misjudge the skill of our presentation. Before audiotaping a recent class... I imagined I was delivering lessons in an energetic and powerful way. To my horror, I discovered that while I was certainly energetic... I was far from powerful. My delivery was jumpy, shrill, weak, and confusing at times. I rushed through the lesson. My explanations were far too quick. There wasnt enough repetition. And I sounded like a hyper poodle on crystal meth.

The truth isnt pretty... but it is instructive. While it can be useful to have an observer in class... Ive rarely benefited from their feedback. They usually tell me things I already know, or things which clash with my teaching philosophy or style, or things which dont gel with my experience.

Taping is harsher and more useful. It exposes weaknesses mercilessly (and shows strengths as well). Therefore, my number one suggestion for the new year is to tape yourself often. I recommend using both audio recordings (unobtrusive) and video recordings (more informative).


by AJ

Teachers could learn a lot from professional speakers and presenters. We (correctly) focus most of our energies on content, curriculum, communicative activities, comprehensible input, and the like. But in the process, many of us (certainly me) neglect DELIVERY.

Ive often shrugged this off... telling myself that Im concerned with SUBSTANCE, not STYLE.

But then I think about the few good teachers I had in the past.... and about the speakers who inspire me. All of them had great delivery as well as great substance. They knew how to project their voice powerfully.... and how to modulate it to create tension, interest, excitement. They knew how to use gesture and movement. They skillfully used visuals and other aids. In short, they were not only knowledgable, they were also great PERFORMERS.

As I reflect on my own teaching, I see a glaring weakness in this area. Reviewing a recent recording I made of my class... I was struck by how shrill my voice was... and how jumpy the pacing was. Reviewing body language... I was struck by how weak it looked.

All of this undercuts the effectiveness of what Im trying to do in class. Great PERFORMANCE matters and it matters a lot. This is a key element in creating a powerful experience for the student. To do so, we must deliver comprehensible input that is interesting (linguistic factors) but we must also reach the student emotionally (non linguistic factors). "Performance" is about that second part.... creating a powerful emotional experience for the student.

So my #1 teaching resolution for 2006 is to radically improve presentation skills. I will join Toastmasters, I will tape my classes frequently and review them, I will attempt to strengthen my voice, Ill work on nonverbal communication, and Ill work on more skillful use of visuals. Ill also pay more attention to how I dress.... to pacing and transitions... to classroom decor... and other emotional factors.

[English 360 has had some excellent posts and links on this topic in the past.... check out their blog]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Thanks to All

by AJ

As the year ends.. just want to say "Thank You" to all the students Ive had in my classes this year. While I am officially the teacher and you the students... in fact it was I who did much of the learning and you who did much of the teaching. You taught me how to be a better teacher. You taught me about your cultures. You taught me about yourselves.. your dreams, goals, and interests. For all of this, I thank you.

Also thanks to the folks at Thammasat University's Language Institute... who, despite some difficult times.. remained friendly and decent. I enjoyed all of the co-workers I had contact with at LITU. (Unfortunately I cant say the same about the boneheads at the BAS dept :)

And thanks to all of my new students and coworkers..... you have presented me with a new challenge. I feel I must raise my teaching skill to your high expectations. I hope to do a better job of this starting next month. I look forward to trying to first meet... then exceed... your expectations.

Finally, to the other TESOL bloggers out there... thanks for the exchange of ideas. I have shamelessly stolen every good one I could find... and look forward to finding more next year! Keep writing!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Questions Questions Questions

by AJ

As I continue to use TPR Storytelling, I realize just how vital questions are. They are, in fact, the driving force behind the technique... the thing that dramatically boosts the language acquisition power of the stories.

Ive also thought a lot about the Focal Skills movie technique. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to use this technique regularly. My few sporadic attempts did not go well.... mostly because I was unsure and I rushed. But there was another problem... I didnt ask enough questions.

I now think Id use, basically, the same approach with movies as I am trying to use with TPR Storytelling. In other words... tons of questions that repeat the vocab (and grammar) in a variety of contexts.

Blaine Ray warns teachers not to underestimate the power of frequent and repetitive questions. Our tendency as native speakers is to get bored quickly and think "this is too easy". Im guilty of this. Ill rush through a story... getting maybe 10 repetitions of each key word. 50-100 is ideal.

Thus, when you tell a line in a story... you follow it up not with one or two questions... but with 5 or more.

Example (lets assume "boy"/"girl" and "neighborhood" are targets) :

There is a boy.
Is there a girl? (no)
Is there a boy? (yes)
There is a boy, how old is he? (students decide)
Is he a nice boy or a mean boy?
What is the boy's name?

OK then. There is a nice boy. He is 12 years old and his name is Bill. He is walking in a bad neighborhood.
Is he walking in a bad neighborhood? (yes)
What kind of neighborhood is he walking in? (bad)
Is it a safe neighborhood? (no, its a bad neighborhood)
Where is the bad neighborhood? (students decide)
What is the name of the neighborhood? (students decide)
What is he doing in the neighborhood? (students make something up)

Another way to get repetitions is to re-state the students answers each time., ie. "Ahh, the bad neighborhood is in New York".

Obviously, for a native speaker, this seems banal and unnecessary. But not so for a foreign language student. Most will (and do) appreciate the repetition.... it helps them understand the word in context and it cements the word in their memory. It does the same thing for the grammar structures. And in both cases (grammar and vocab), there is no need for the student to willfully memorize or "study" to remember and use them correctly.

I think the same approach could be used with the movie technique. In addition to narrating each scene and tossing in a few questions... why not pick out a few words/phrases and repeat them with a variety of questions. Really work over each scene to maximize comprehension (and thus acquisition). This will stretch the movie out for many classes, but thats OK. After all, unless you're working with advanced students.... most will appreciate the boost in comprehension and tolerate the constant pauses in the movie. (Advanced students require few, if any, pauses. Best to focus their questions on plot twists, character motivation, issues brought up by the movie, etc... ie. a sheltered content approach).

Monday, December 19, 2005

New Years Resolutions

by AJ

Break time.... we've got about two weeks till school starts again.. and thats great news for me!

Job number one... finding an apartment that won't bankrupt me!

Job two.... plan classes for next year. Ive played around with a few things and plan to incorporate the following into my teaching mix once class resumes:

TPRS: My favorite technique... its worked well with the class, though I have not executed it well. I simply have not asked enough questions during the stories. According to Blaine Ray, a good teacher will get 50-100 repetitions of key vocabulary/grammar out of one 30 minute story! Yikes, thats a lot... Im lucky to get 10. And whats the key to getting those repetitions? Lots and lots of questions... each one containing one of the target vocab words.

Done properly, I should be able to guarantee that my students learn 12 new words per day (or about 200 per month) just from the TPR Storytelling lessons. I resolve to get those 50 repetitions of each word out of every mini-story.

IR: Interactive Reading... which is just a fancy way of saying "reading real materials". We've been using the newspaper. Its quite difficult for my students.. but we usually get 10+ new words out of a couple of paragraphs.

But thats OK... because journalists usually put all the essentials in those paragraphs. So we usually stop after the second or third paragraph and then shift to a discussion of the issues raised by the article.

Then we use (TPR) stories to reinforce the new vocabulary and practice its use in different contexts. I resolve to continue reading authentic materials with my students.

FVR: Ill dedicate 10-15 minutes to free voluntary reading... followed by a short "book club" discussion of what we read. My super-student (Jinny) has already bought an English-version manga and is reading it. She's also doing some free voluntary listening.... she bought a children's book that came with a CD... and is listening to it. What a great student!

I resolve to become a pleasure-reading and pleasure-listening evangelist... by bombarding my students with research on its effectiveness.

Movie Technique: Id love to use this but I dont have a TV & DVD player in my room. Boo hoo... gotta stay low tech!

Social: Ill plan the social group during the break... hopefully I can help my students meet Americans and make friends. I resolve to create a vibrant volunteer social program for students.

Energy: This has always been my insurance policy. A high energy level helps me to make boring material more interesting... and fun activities more fun. Since Ive been so distracted by getting settled in a new city, my energy level in class has not been great. Im hoping to change that in January. I resolve to whip my butt in shape, start training for 10ks again (and maybe another marathon), eat healthy, meditate,..... and go into class fully charged. Banzai! (In other words, to give my students the maximum effort they deserve)!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My (less than) Genius Plan

by AJ

Since imagination and creativity are failing me, Ive decided to keep doing what Ive been doing in class: Gather information and try lots of stuff. I suppose this has always been my approach-- when in doubt, try something.

1. Gather Information

Every day Im doing ice breaker activities... .and activities stolen from my social work days. Im trying to learn everything possible about my students. At first, this means their English language goals. It means their learning style.

But thats only the tip of the iceberg. Im also trying to learn about their personalities.... about their strengths... about their doubts. Im trying to learn about their problems... in and out of class. Im trying to learn their interests and hobbies. Their personalities and temperaments. Their social needs.

And also about their backgrounds: where are they from, who are their friends, what is their family like, what is their home town/country like?

This coming week I will do a social work activity with them called a "sociogram". This is a little like a family tree.. but more comprehensive. Students will draw their entire social network.... including family, friends, rivals, enemies, etc... There are different ways to do these, but I prefer the following method:

A. The student puts a circle (woman) or square (man) in the center of a blank piece of paper... and writes their own name in it.
B. The student then draws circles/squares for the significant people in their life. They arrange these according to how close their relationship with the person is. So their best friend would be drawn very close to their own name.... while a distant acquaintance might be put near the edge of the paper.
C. Next, the student draws lines between themselves and each person on the paper. They draw a solid line for a (generally) positive relationship and a dashed line for a (generally) negative or strained relationship.
D. Finally, the student draws lines between the other people (not themselves)... also using solid or dashed lines. So, if Mom and Dad are divorced and hate each other, they'd draw a dashed line between Mom's circle and Dad's square.

Once all this is done, the student presents their sociogram to the group and explains it. If done well, this gives a nice snapshot of their social support system.

Another thing Ill be doing next week is presenting articles on culture shock and discussing them. Id like to learn about my students experience. Where are they on the culture shock curve (euphoric? frustrated? depressed? lonely? adjusted? happy?)? What are their emotional needs/wants? What kind of social supports do they have here? What are they struggling with? What are they enjoying?

And finally, Ill be doing activities to discover their interests. Knowing their interests helps me to plan activities, choose articles, and organize projects. I need to know what fascinates them. I need to know what excites them... what they are passionately interested in. This goes well beyond the "what are your hobbies" question... Id like to get deeper than that.

Job One: Get to know these students (at a real, human level).

2. Try Lots of Stuff

Someone more talented than I might know what to do immediately. But thats not me.

So instead, I plan to experiment like crazy until the winter break. For now, I will continue to shotgun a wide variety of activities at my students.

I plan to try Dale Carnegie speeches, micro projects, free reading, the movie technique, interactive reading, TPRS, role plays, field trips, guest speakers, the textbook & textbook exercises, a book/literature circle, focused rewrites, etc......

Its not the brightest approach, but basically I will try everything I can think of and see what clicks. What sorts of activities do these students respond to? Which dont they seem to like? How do they interact with each other.... and me? Do they prefer more formality? Or a very casual approach? Do they prefer loose structure... or a very regimented routine? Do they respond to wild energy and enthusiasm (my default), or to a quieter approach? What sort of seating arrangement do they respond best to? How much homework do they want... and what kind?

Of course, I also have my own ideas and agenda.... and questions such as: How can I deliver interesting comprehensible input? How can I (slowly) teach them about the research in language acquisition? How can I inspire passion and deep engagement? How can I move them towards total independence as language learners? How can I help them build their proficiency as fast as possible (including raising their TOEFL scores)? How can I create buzz and excitement-- to draw students to class?

So many questions, so few answers.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Change of Game Plan

by AJ

Im floundering in the classroom. I dont have a good feel for my students needs. Im out of the groove. Things just arent clicking. For the last four days Ive been frustrated (with myself). Ive been brainstorming, reading, whacking myself in the head (literally :) -- but nothing has worked.

So, Ive decided to switch gears. Give my brain a rest and focus on what I DO know.

Because I have identified one HUGE need. My students want to make friends.. especially American friends. Some are lonely. Some are shy. All express a desire to make connections with Americans.

So Ill put the in-class linguistics issues aside for a bit and focus on this very important non-linguistic need.

Step one: Ive already talked to the Director of the school about starting a social program.. and he liked the idea. So, Ill be starting up a volunteer social program. The idea is to bring in American (or other English speaking) volunteers along with our students... then provide regular social activities for them to meet and mix.

Ive done this before... when I was a social worker... and it worked fantastically well. So, over the next three weeks Ill be deciding on meeting times and location, making fliers, and planning social outings.

2. Interest clubs. Once the social club is going (which may take a while), I may try to form some after-school interests clubs (or, more to the point, encourage students to start them). I envision clubs grouped around specific topics such as hip-hop music, food, sports/fitness, dance, karaoke, etc... Id like to open these groups to the public as well, for two purposes. One, these may attract native speakers and thus friendship opportunities for students. And two, these may attract students at other schools... and give us a chance to steal them!

3. Partner with Volunteer Agencies. One of my students expressed an interest in volunteering. Which got me to thinking about my social work background. Which got me to thinking about creating alliances with various agencies that offer volunteer programs. First, Ill probably invite folks from these agencies to speak to my students. For example, a social worker could talk to us about the homeless situation in the city (in English). As a follow-up, we could take a field trip to the agency and talk to some of their clients. We could also visit other agencies, talk to volunteers, and help out by volunteering for fundraising events, etc...

4. Dust Off the Social Work Skills: Since all of the students expressed a degree of culture shock, isolation, etc.... why not mimic a support group... give the students a chance to discuss their problems, and possible solutions. So many students feel lonely, but they say nothing.

I felt the same way when I came to Bangkok. When I went to Thai class, one of my strongest wishes was for more social programs. I wished the school had provided regular activities outside of the classroom.... to help me make friends with my classmates... and with Thai people.

So why not read articles about culture shock, read other people's culture shock experiences, discuss issues of isolation, discuss social customs, discuss strategies for making friends...... Ill need to calibrate the linguistic content, but the topics will at least be relevant to the students immediate and everyday lives.

Thats my plan for the remainder of this month... and for next month. If I can get some of these programs going, Ill revisit the linguistic issues and see if I can develop a better structure to my classes. Until then, I hope to at least facilitate helpful, interesting, and inspiring OUT-OF-CLASS experiences.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Still Clueless

by AJ

I got a bit of feedback from one of my students today.... very polite, very sweet... and right on target.

She told me, more or less, that my lessons have been chaotic. She said Im doing too many things... and she's getting confused. She wants me to develop some kind of routine or structure for each days lesson,... so she knows what to expect day to day.

She's right. My lessons have been chaotic... almost random. Im totally out of sync. Ive been throwing lessons at them piecemeal... whatever I remember working well in the past, I try it with them. Because of this, there is no consistency, and little repetition, in my lessons (essentials for language learning).


But there is one bit of good news.... we have a two week break at the end of December. Time for me to catch my breath. Time to reflect on my first two weeks. Time to think about all that Ive learned about my students. Time to get clear... and get organized. I hope to come back from the break reconnected with my teaching mojo..... organized, focused, relevant, energized.

Until then, I hope my students will be patient as I fumble along towards competency.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


by AJ

The intensive English program is very interesting.... and I like it. However, I feel like Im starting over. This is my first week, and to be honest, I am not doing a great job. Not even a good job. Something just isnt clicking... though I havent figured out what the problem is yet. What am I missing? What do I need to change? Where is my mojo?

Today I took a small step towards answering those questions. Another teacher sat in my class today, took notes, and gave me feedback. He had a couple of nice things to say, but what interested me most were his criticisms:

1. Not enough repetition.... speaking too fast.

This was his number one criticism. He felt I was zooming through the lesson and was not making sure that ALL students understood the vocabulary. For example, we came across the word "nap" while reading an article. I quickly asked the class if they knew the word. One student said "yes"... and so I said "great" and zoomed ahead.

My observer suggested I slow down and ask more questions...... dont just check with one student.. but with several (especially weaker students). Also, he suggested I keep a running vocab list each day on the board... and try to use those words many times throughout the day. Finally, he suggested I review the list at the end of the day and check each student to see if they understand the words.

All of these are excellent suggestions.

2. AJ, you talk too much

His other observation was that I talk too much in class. Again, this is on target. Im in a new class, in a new situation... and am a bit nervous and clueless. In such circumstances, I tend to babble. Which is what I did today. I talked, and talked, and talked. I interrupted students and blurted out my own explanations.

My observer once again suggested that I slow down and shut up! Be more patient and let the students take more control of the class.

I agree with this criticism as well.

3. Clueless

This is my own self-criticism. I feel clueless. I dont have a handle on what these students need or want. They are very different than my TU students. Their attitudes are different. They are more assertive (a good thing). Their expectations are much much higher (at TU, they basically expected teachers to show up and crunch through a textbook). These guys arent after a grade... or even a diploma. They want to MASTER English... they want native-like fluency.

I feel like Ive been bumped up to the major leagues after spending years in the minors. At the moment, I dont have a good handle on things.

Which is why it was nice to have an observer.... especially a positive and professional one. The simple truth is that most students won't tell you these things. You can ask them. You can beg them. You can bribe them. But most will still say, "everything is fine"... or "no complaints". They may despise you and your class... but most arent going to tell you (which is why I enjoyed teaching Hiroshi so much-- great to have such a blunt student!).

So, the next best thing to student feedback is peer feedback. Over the next several months, I hope to be observed more often. I also plan to bring in my trusty friend- the video camera... so I can see my painful incompetence directly :)

All of this done in order to try.... as best I can... to understand what the students' experience is like. If Im a boring windbag, I want to know. If I talk too fast, I want to know. If my explanations are non-sensical, I want to know.

And knowing, I hope to improve.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Back In The Saddle Again

by AJ

Ive gotten a part time teaching job to make ends meet.. and am enjoying being back in the classroom. Having gotten burned by being a bit too open and specific.... Ill avoid giving details about places and names when writing about this job :)

The place Im teaching is an intensive English program, which is a new setting for me. The biggest adjustment is handling the time. Im used to having students for one to two hours... once or twice a week. That sort of schedule requires a certain type of pacing. Usually I tried to go into class with maximum energy and squeeze every drop out of class.

But now I have the same students for four hours every day of the week. This calls for a somewhat slower and less manic pace. Today, for example, I realized I was yelling. Id grown used to teaching large classes at TU.... without a mic. Now Im in a small room with a very small class (5 people).... so the entire school could hear me. My students kindly let me know that I didnt need to yell for them to hear me. (Thanks).

Despite feeling a bit uncomfortable with the new format... I think I will prefer it to past schedules. This sort of schedule plays to my strengths. I am able to get to know my students very well... because I have tiny classes and lots of time with them... I can learn their individual needs and strengths and co-develop an individual learning plan with each.

Also, I have the time to try a wide variety of activities. For example, I now have time to use the movie technique as it should be used. And plenty of time to utilize book & film clubs, field trips, guest speakers, workshops. In fact, the school actively encourages such activities.

Which brings me to the best part:

I have to raise my game. This school is new... its run by a very creative and enthusiastic Director who expects great things from his teachers. The other teachers are excellent. They are doing lots of interesting things... utilizing a host of authentic materials... and experimenting with their lessons. After a few conversations, I realized this was an exceptional group. These are not the boring, slave-to-the-textbook, traditional lecturers I usually work with.

Which, to be honest, is both inspiring and intimidating. Its intimidating because Im no longer the most energized or restless teacher at work. These guys are good, they are creative, they are enthusiastic. No burnouts or clock punchers. Im used to getting by on raw energy and a bit of creativity... but this school will demand more.

And thats inspiring. Talking to these teachers is exciting. They make me want to do more, try more. They make me want to create phenomenal lessons. They push me to search for more interesting activities and more innovative approaches. Its the same feeling I get when I talk to Aaron or Mark in Kyoto.... like plugging into a high-power battery pack.

And thats how a school (or any organization) should be. A place where people are encouraged to build on their strengths and constantly grow.

Which, come to think of it, sums up my mission for students (build on their strengths and encourage them to constantly grow).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Super Cool Freelancing Tool

by AJ

The cover story for Mother Jones magazine carries the title: "A Campus of One. Who needs professors and classrooms when the online university is only a click away?" Great question. The answer-- fewer and fewer people. Traditional (rigid, uptight, boring) schools will always be around, but they will be facing increased competition from more flexible, more personal, more interesting, more relevant... and more decentralized competitors. Online education will be (is already?) one of the biggest alternatives.

Thats good news for me, and for many students.... (not such good news for old fart lecturers).

Its also good news for anyone interested in freelance teaching, especially distance teaching.

My own distance freelancing program just got a whole lot better and a whole lot easier. I've signed up with an incredible service called Tutopia.

Tutopia calls itself an "online tutoring marketplace for TESOL". Think ebay meets distance teaching. Their aim is to support freelance teachers and make quality distance learning available to students all over the world. Tutors sign up with the service for free. Each tutor determines their own pricing, schedule, etc. They create a profile detailing their qualifications, approach, and other information.

Students then go to the Tutopia site and shop for tutors. They choose one, sign up, pay with paypal or a credit card... and are connected with the tutor of their choice (assuming the tutor agrees to take them on). Pay works as follows: the tutor charges whatever hourly rate they want... Tutopia adds $10 an hour to this figure for their fee.

After a month, students rate their tutor. These ratings become part of the tutors profile (in much the way ebay sellers are rated by buyers). Thus teachers are graded BY THE STUDENTS, not the other way around.

Now here's the really cool part, what you get for that extra $10 a month is top-notch software..... that allows tutors to simultaneously hold a video conference, present powerpoint slides, share screen shots, and type text (instant messaging). Its sort of like Skype on steroids. And for the tutor, its free.

As soon as Ive got a reliable high-speed connection, Ill be playing around with the software. With Tutopia its also possible to record a teaching session and make it available to the public (for one week I think). If I get competent with the system, Ill try to share a few lessons... give an idea of whats possible... and also get some feedback to help me improve.

Meanwhile, anyone considering freelance distance teaching should give Tutopia a look.