Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Timemapping the Irish College Closure Crisis

I've been away from teaching and making ELT-applicable techie stuff for (wow) two years. But just today I finished working on a map and it's about ELT (in Ireland).

TimeMapper is the application. Use it to make timelines and somewhat interactive maps.

You will also need:
A Twitter account
A Google account
A TimeMapper account
Your data ducks in a row (see below)

The subject matter isn't particularly attractive: 15 or so ELT schools closed in Ireland between 2014-15 which stranded students and disemployed all their teachers without any warning. Typically this business decision was communicated to them with just an A4 page pinned to a locked door saying 'Sorry! We've ceased trading.'  The problem? Bad regulations. Ours were so bad in Ireland, they were voluntary. Our owners were so shady they would pressure the DOS to fire you if you were earning the highest rate in the school or if you were in a union. (Imagine... a teacher... in a UNION! What next?)

Anyway ICOS, a semi-governmental body, spoke with/for students though a (fairly heroic) part-timer there who volunteered hundreds of hours to help the stranded students. This contrasted with the sneaky owners who ran off with the students' money or who steered a way through the Crisis only to say to their DOS, (and I quote) "There's no need to pay teachers what we were paying them in January. We should get new teachers ASAP and get them to work for less. It's called 'supply and demand'." (...then he smiled hopefully and conspiringly. And there's a reason I am less active inside ELT schools now).

I visited the ICOS office in 2014 to show them the ELTOs Map and soon after ICOS did their part and put together a timeline. The idea was that I could make a map to sync up with their timeline. Three years, and one disillusionment or two later, I have some time on my hands. So with IATEFL hashtags bouncing around Twitter at the moment, I thought I might finally finish a last couple non-essential ELT projects. Kudos to Mura Nava for the idea to try TimeMapper out. And well done to them for using OpenStreetMaps instead of GoogleMaps though Blogger certainly prefers GoogleMaps.*

So, this project is for the history books, I hope. But it might not go amiss in a CELTA or CELT course.

I could suggest you and your students try it to document your holidays or stories and expeditions, large (Lewis and Clark's expedition to the Pacific) or small (retracing your steps from last fabulous weekend when you lost your keys).

In the same way war teaches Americans geography, the Irish College Closure Crisis taught us about unregulated for-profit ELT. As they say in America 'Never Forget'.

*Just in case the embed code isn't working try this to view it on TimeMapper.

Oh yeah use this if you have a great data table but don't have the longitude latitude coordinates:
It's brilliant!

And many thanks to the Dear Reader who suggested I edit this a bit more before launching it onto the Internet. You were right. Please find more errors.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Recap on ELT Maker Night 5

Irish skies gave us great weather for the first in a long time. So numbers were low. We took advantage and left BlockT for an open space across the square with our special guest Marianne Jordan ...who wasn't going to let any sunny evening spoil things for us.

She's very well known locally as a materials writer through Celtic Publications. Every staff room in Dublin over 5 years old has a copy of Learning English in Ireland and most have seen a copy of Phonetics for Learners of English Pronunciation. She talked us through her work starting in New Zealand teaching tech and business classes and writing mountains of materials for their equivalents to our Institutes of Technology. (She's still getting royalties for that work.) She started doing the materials to foundation year courses as we call them and that meant a return to language teaching. A long road led her back to Ireland about 10 years ago where I first met her at a CES CPD event. I still have my certificate of phonetic knowledge achievement. And did my MSc work on pronunciation materials building for ELT. So it was a big deal for me to see her again. Did she 'find her bliss' writing materials? Probably not but she found her niche- a lot more practical. And Makers are slightly more into that. Excellent stories and sound advice for materials writers from how to manage a project and select partners to which kind of binding and why to self-publish. I'm very happy I made it.

Notes and photos will follow later this summer.

Special note: Colette, Liam and Rob will be running the email list and blog too now. If any other Makers want access, write in and say so.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


ELT MAKER NIGHT 5 (or V) is on in at 6:30 in Block T.

It's been a good spring for us and we are all basking in the sunshine this afternoon.

We'll be on hold until Autumn unless Rob or Liam or possibly possibly Colette keeps the team on target. I'm off to even sunnier climes.

But for tonight we will be welcoming Marianne Jordan, a book Maker, not the PaddyPower kind. Hopefully she let us know about the gritty, tech/design side of putting a book together. We'll leave the writing process to one of Peter Lahiff's Writing Forums.

See you soon...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Recap on ELT Maker Night 4

Block T hosted ELT Maker Night 4 a third time 12 May.

Rob ran the agenda and we kept it to a (very) short 45 minutes. The venue needed us out by 7:00. We had new people, new Makers and plenty to keep us talking. The session ended up continuing for more than a few minutes afterwards on the market square in Smithfield. Lesson learned: no matter how many people sign up for the Maker Night always anticipate more.

The Recap:

At 6:15 I met Colette, Bridget and Terry just outside as I was walking in. Rob was already inside writing the agenda up on the board in the now familiar meeting room off BlockT's hot desk space.

I hadn't anticipated any newcomers but there were two. Rob got us started straight away on an agenda pared down to 45 minutes... No ELTea, no feature, no Mini Maker Project. Just Show 'n' Tells, some biscuits (thank you Colette) and an exit. But it was packed.

Terry: Show 'n' Tell

Terry showed his two sites and his experiences as a teacher with full Portuguese proficiency teaching in one of the schools which closed recently.  He had some excellent ideas for classroom activities with batteries and plugs not needed. One involves Nerf guns and grammar. (TEFL... Teaching English with Firearms is Lovely?) 

It was impressive invention and rare to see a relatively new teacher confidently contributing to the teaching community in his blog (but he doesn't like calling it a blog because that suggests first person narrative and he's just not into that all the time. I am. Most of his articles are more like ELT Instructables. Something we should probably be doing more of here... hmm.)  He also makes himself available to a targeted set of learners on his site for lusophones. His support system online is Wordpress. Good choice.

Being WordPress fan, he recommended ELT Makers try Viral ELT. The idea behind it is not new- it's much the same as the idea as the 1989 idea of bringing a photo to class and asking students to discuss it. Viral ELT replaces the photo with a viral video which has been making the rounds on social media and points the teacher to a ways of turning lexis-lite Likes into conversations and debates, projects and presentations. The site is clean and designed around visuals and puts the power in the teacher's hands to get students active. Thanks to Terry I hope he finds a safe school that nurtures creative teachers. I think he will. He certainly deserves one.

Colette: Show 'n' Tell

Colette talked us through her recent podcasting project which reflected Liam's scifi podcast project show and tell from Night 3. (See post below) Her experience was positive and suggested that having single lesson management system for each pair or small group wasn't the best thing. Her students made radio news podcasts. Motivating students -or enticing them- to participate is only easy with a majority of your  students she suggested. One student wanted nothing to do with it but was also a very poor attender so the project could be constructed and continued on days when this student was absent without affecting her experience. Conveniently she was absent most days before and after the idea was floated. 

Colette's idea, like Liam's, was to have students listen to a sample, develop an idea in conversation and finally write a script to perform and record. No suspense: it was a big success. But she also had a pair who didn't want to write and weren't fond of the whole idea, though not as extremely as the non-attender. There is a happy ending though. After seeing how other groups were progressing, this hesitant group decided to discuss their news unscripted and Colette found their podcast as, if not more, enjoyable to listen to. 

All the podcasts were recorded on Colette's own tablet and during class time as the other students were engaged in speaking activities from the syllabus and textbooks. So, though the idea was introduced and ideas were discussed and scripts were written as a whole-class lesson-time activity in small groups or pairs, the recording work was done as a substitute for the class's work. The selected group who needed to record their scripts were given the tablet and a spare classroom and that precious 15 minutes of freedom to create. 

ELT Makers: Contrasting Podcasting

Colette's podcast project contrasts with Liam's in a couple of ways and this may go back to their positions on Making. Colette believes that tech in the classroom should be IN CLASS TIME. She is not fond of using personal time for class projects. Neither is Liam but this principle is a good limit to force you to be more creative. Can you still make a good project or learning experience without touching the tech outside of 'contact hours'? Colette's project shows it is possible. 

Liam's project had more bells and whistles so to speak. His SciFi podcasts meant that the students had to find and add sound effects and use an audio editor (both use Audacity). Colette's students' projects went from script to recording to upload. Liam's inserted an extra step or two but this was a requirement of the genre. 

The relative ease Colette's experience and the genre of choice of a news report led her naturally to think about how the entire school could benefit. One school on the northside of the city runs a real monthly newspaper (on actual newspaper! not photocopies!). Why couldn't Colette's school run an audio news programme? Why not indeed? Some excellent podcasts about issues in ELT came out over the last 12 months including ELT Podcasts, and some that have video like the TEFL Equity interviews. Interviews and simple audio seems very make-able. Let's hope more of it happens.

Up next

We had to skedaddle at 7:11 and continued talking as we all headed through the hipster haven at the front of the house and kept talking until we finally watched desk jockey Dave pull down the shutter and head for the pub. 

ELT Maker Night 5 will be on June 9. Probably Block T again. Marianne Jordan one of those rare Makers who does pronunciation stuff and incredible self-publishing. She will coming out as next month's feature. Get her little green book off your school's shelf and bring it down for an autograph. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Recap on ELT Maker Night 3


Block T's meeting room which is not unlike a typical no-tech ELT classroom in Dublin. There was even a 3x4 whiteboard. Thanks James.


Tuesday 14 April 2015.
We got started at 6:15 due to traffic issues.
Aside from that Liam kept things moving along quickly.


Everyone on the mailing list who said they would come did come. Everyone else wrote saying why they couldn't- one was actually at another group's meeting. (IATEFL? Some English group, I think.) Everyone made contact. That in itself is a sign of community.

By the way the next one is on Tuesday, 12th of May. Expect a massive missive soon.

Write to ELTMakers at Gmail dot com if you are interested in an invitation. We decided to abandon the LinkedIn group and just focus on projects and real meetings.


Below is a story of the evening's events with some bits of flavour.

Show 'n' Tell

Once we were all in show and tell started. John B. Whipple (writing) started but this went a bit long. See this post for details.

Liam, also managing the agenda, went next and told us about his Sci-Fi Radio project. He traces his influences from his private love of scifi and horror as genres and Community Language Learning. CLL was a big ELT deal in its day theoretically. He may have come across this on his DELTA.

Teachers who had responsibility for their students learning through course creation, choice of materials and suggested work had the ability to set work which was essentially creative- this accords with a lot of view of ELT professionalism as being closer to artistic professionalism. Be that as is it may he gave us great sources and samples of student work. Some of the students posted proudly shared their radio work on their social media accounts.

Liam's suggestions were as follows:

Find an old sci-fi or horror radio show
War of Worlds by Orson Welles' crew is the most famous but the world of scripted online audio may be bigger than scripted online video. It has an extra few years of history. He suggests searching Many of the OpenCulture pieces also provide transcripts which you can use in a million ways.

Once you have it, play it for the class and do your usual activities. Most likely you will see examples of vocab and grammar you've studied with them in the last few weeks.

Once that is done, drop the news... They are going to write their own spooky sci-fi radio play.

Set the parameters
  • specific intended audience, 
  • writing, preparation, recording, final product time limits, 
  • number of words in the script, 
  • teams
Set the resources
  • Recordings can be made on phones/ personal devices.
  • Editing done with Audacity (we will cover this in a future tutorial for ELT people perhaps Russell Stannard has already, Audacity certainly has plenty of tutorials but crucially it's free and basic use is not complex)
  • Audacity needs to run on a computer (so book the computer lab or request students to start downloading to their devices and messing with Audacity on Day 1 or 2)
  • You will want sound effects find them here. Nasa has a great authentic recordings section on SoundCloud if there will be spaceships involved. 
  • Time...

Recognize time needs and limits before you begin
All this work takes time especially if it's going to be enjoyable. The easiest way to ruin a party is to put a time limit on it. So explain that this is a short term project. It could be a half hour to an hour a day. You could make it into a competition of sorts if you need to speed the plow. Expect to be at it for at least 2 days in total if you commit the entire class time. But it will probably be just under 2 weeks if you are doing it part-time and take a few days off.

Total time for all [good concept, script, tech-up, recording, sound effects work, conversion, editing and burn--- with first timers]: 6 hours, maybe less if you have some people with experience like musicians or media people. Trust your learners to find the tech answers. Just keep them on target with the language, monitor and take notes.


Peppermint tea seems to be a favourite as it's naturally decaffeinated but unnaturally delightful. (Complete exaggeration.) One Maker preferred regular man tea with milk as the lord intended it. Hobnobs and FigRolls were present. John showed a couple of videos from his CES Uppers blog. Let's continue.


See the little naughts and crosses box? Blogger's in there somewhere.
ELT Maker Nights haven't really had featured guests. Rob Lane, who has a spectacular Google+ page, is the first one. Apart from me no one but he has written an article for the ELT MakeSpace blog. But he's a veteran web writer. Blogger however basic was new to him.

He walked us through writing a first post to the MakeSpace. The requirement is a Google account and then Blogger needs to be set up. If you are on a computer based web browser and are in your Gmail you know how this looks... Next to the 'apps box', which is next to your name, you will have a Blogger option.

An ELT MakeSpace blog admin needs to send you an invitation to write. All last night's attending ELT Makers were sent an invitation this morning. You can all start putting together your own posts at that point. As an example of a first post I made my show and tell accessible as an individual post (and this shortened this already enormous recap). Rob then talked us through the content of his post: the idea, the nerves as well as the process, benefits and motivation behind his work. If you haven't read it go back to it now clicking here. Or scroll down a couple of posts. And check out his G+ here. It's a great idea that benefits him as a teacher as much as his school.

Maker Project

We did it and I think it's pretty great. Well done to Liam- concept to completion... And transferred it over ....On the same night.

What is an ELT Maker? from John Whipple on Vimeo.

Well done, folks.

PS This week Daniel Zuchowski, newsletter writer for ELT Ireland, asked how many ELT Maker Nights there will be. It goes up to 11.

Maker Night 4 is on Tuesday 12 May. Even if you can't come you can always make an excuse.


Great night.

3 blogs from an old ELT Maker

My show and tell went a little long. I showed about three old blogs I wrote. Why not just one? This was to make up for the fact that I couldn't really participate in the show 'n' tells for the last two ELT Maker Nights because I was too busy coordinating. Thanks to James and Liam for organizing ELT MAKER NIGHT 3. It's been my favourite. A link to a recap of the whole evening will be here.

Clear Communication and it was my first English language blog. This one is probably the only one it's worth fighting through (or trying to read). It dates back to my blogging birth in 2008 and was written for English language teachers in Ireland as a resource for learning more about pronunciation teaching- theory, history, resources and technology. There was little sense of ELT Community at the time. No interaction in comments really. I felt like the Emily Dickinson of the ELT blogosphere. Good times... I still go back to it when I happen on an article or resource. There is less urgency as so many more pronunciation resources have popped up and sites have been written. But still there has been the occasional personal message to a resource maker in Sardinia or blogger in Birmingham. It's showed me that despite the apparent distance between our physical classrooms, the struggles we face as teachers are give us common neighbours to talk about and that's a good starting place for community.

My first blog ever was Aiutini -'little help-lettes' in Italian.
This was for a large group of students in I taught in Ancona back in 2007 or '8. They wanted to make enormous progress but had only 3 weeks tuition paid by their employer- that really boiled down to 12 hours face-to-face. As most were over 40 I thought it would be worthwhile to compile a list of self-assessment resources, learner resources etc and collect them somewhere they could get to. I asked them for their favourite websites and they gave some great ones (but a few had no access to the internet). This blog gave me an opportunity to use my L2 and was where I first started learning about making things online: HTML was much closer to the surface of the web then. Special note Aiutini was a neologism and for about 4 years our blog was in the top 10 google results. Che bello.

The final one was CES Uppers. This blog again was for a specific readership: my Upper-Intermediate class at CES Dublin back in its pre-'corporate' days. The posts were occasionally planned before the lesson to facilitate flipping the classroom before the term was repeated to death. Mostly the posts are diary entries of unplanned moments in the lesson or summaries of what occurred. There are lots of whiteboard shots, reminders of answers to impromptu questions, videos to Anglosphere cultural references, examples, samples of work and resources. It shows a lot of the raw messiness and enjoyment of teaching languages face-to-face: something I think we all appreciate but keep to ourselves for fear of seeming out of control or uncontrollable.

These three are all flawed as 'products' because they are too casually written to be of use to people outside the intended readership. There are too many 'you had to be there' moments. But that's ok. They were simply to be used for asynchronous communication between the intended readership and myself ie my Ancona group, my fellow pronunciation teachers and my 'Uppers' and me. Not every piece of writing wants to be published as a page in a course book or an academic article.

Clear Communication is the only one that might still be practical to people in 2015.

The process of writing each was creative -and so, empowering and enlightening. There were a couple of negatives but on balance my ELT time was better with it.


  • I stopped watching football for a couple of seasons. When I came back to it, I just didn't care that much any more. 
  • Like prepping for lessons, all hours spent on every blog went unpaid.
  • It encouraged me to see private ELT as a career.


  • I wouldn't have gone on to eventually do an MSc. The thesis was just published in ELT Journal this month. 
  • I wouldn't have been promoted in or between schools without them. 
  • They showed the work I was doing internally- before, during and after lessons. There may be no other accessible evidence of this aside from positive lesson observation forms from my DoS.
  • The basic maintenance of the sites helped me cut my teeth with technology and... 
  • The process of writing with the internet showed me how much assistance is accessible and freely available online. 
  • The diary-like structure of a blog encourages regular writing and that helped forming a habit which led to a bit more critical thinking, reflection and research. 
  • It contributes to my current view that ELT is an artistic profession
  • It encouraged me to see private ELT as a career.

-John B. Whipple

Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick note on ELT Maker Night 3

We have confirmation on ELT Maker Night 3.

BlockT, our favourite Smithfield workspace is the location. (Thanks James)

6:00-7:30 on Tuesday the 14th of April is the time, day and date. (Mm. Tomorrow...)

We'll be doing our regular ELTea and Show 'n' Tell of projects we are working on but Rob Lane will be giving a little presentation on stuff he's made and how it works in his school. He'll also be telling members how to write articles on the ELT Make Space blog (what you are reading now). See his article below.

Newcomers are welcome since we've only met twice. Bring a big strong friend with you if you are afraid. (Don't be.)

Bring a project you are working on or a computer to show it to us on if it's online. Bring some money to put in the hat to cover the room rental (because we do). 

Post a note here with questions or email ELTMakers at gmail. ( com)

You're welcome. (Thanks to DZ at the ELT Ireland newsletter for the mention this morning.- JW)