Friday, September 30, 2016

Meet "Mr Dock" - a low tech solution to managing digital devices in the classroom

In a previous blog post about attempting to employ an Acceptable Use Policy to manage digital devices in the classroom, I reported that my colleague, Melek Korudağ, and I had tried out many techniques and applications to help students see how beneficial their smartphones can be in class, but in the end our efforts were abused so badly that we banned the use of phones in class completely. 

After that experience, Melek taught in two more institutions and tried out several other approaches. Eventually, she ended up adapting an idea she had seen at Sabancı University, Istanbul. Melek had a 'dock' for  phones tailor made from fabric. It has five 'rows' with four 'pouches' in each row in which a mobile phone can be stored.

Displaying Mr.Dock.JPG
Meet 'Mr Dock' class!!
At the beginning of the semester, Melek discusses classroom rules with her students and negotiates terms for the acceptable use of mobile devices in class. She tells them that if they breach the agreement, she will introduce them to "Mr. Dock", who will make sure that no more breaches take place.  At this point, the actual identify of "Mr Dock" is not revealed. 

Melek reports that she has never had a class that hasn't been introduced to Mr Dock, as the students are unable to observe the terms agreed on smartphone use. She has been using Mr. Dock for over a year now and finds it very beneficial.

In practice, "Mr Dock" is hung from coat hooks on the wall.  Students place their phones (ideally in flight mode and/or muted, the screen hidden from view by facing toward the wall) in the pouches of "Mr Dock" at the beginning of each lesson.  If they need to use them for the lesson (kahoot, padlet, google search, dictionary work, etc.), it just takes them seconds to pick them up again and return them after the activity is finished. 

Many thanks to Melek for sharing her experience and acquainting us with "Mr Dock"!  I agree with Melek that it is important to go through the motions of discussing the acceptable use of digital devices in the classroom, and negotiating a class agreement with students.  However, as it seems students lack the necessary willpower to manage their digital device addiction, it is necessary to have an easy to implement "Plan B" to deal with the inevitable breach of agreed acceptable use of digital devices.  "Mr Dock" still makes it easy to use the phones for any class activity with minimal lost time in retrieving and replacing them after the activity is over.

If you have a seating plan that involves rows of desks, it would be an idea to layout out the pouches in "Mr Dock" to replicate the seating arrangement.  Then it would be easy to see if anyone had forgotten to 'dock' their phone.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to deal with digital devices in the classroom? Is an Acceptable Use Policy worth trying?

Does this scene look familiar?  I'm sure virtually every teacher on the planet can identify with the situation in the class below.

Nowadays, because almost every student has their own digital device,  having them in the classroom can cause a lot of tension and angst if they get in the way of learning.  On one hand, these devices can be extremely powerful agents for learning.  On the other hand, there is a tendency for students to use them primarily for social or entertainment purposes which detracts from the learning environment in class. What is more, the base needs Maslow proposed for learning to take place seems to have evolved to having a fully charged battery and WiFi access as prerequisite.

One obvious way to deal with this is to ban the phones completely.  It is an effective solution in terms of classroom management, but it does little to help students learn how to manage their personal use of digital devices, which if left unchecked can develop into what one could label as a serious addiction.

One approach that has emerged in the K-12 sector in America is to develop a Responsible Use Policy (also known as an Acceptable Use Policy). Here is one example  which includes a detailed guide in PDF.  However, most of these are based on the K-12 context in American schools and are generally school wide rather than classroom specific.

My teaching partner and I were experiencing classroom management issues related to the misuse/abuse of mobile phones in our second semester English pre-intermediate level group. In our institution, these groups are problematic at the best of times, as students with two distinct language abilities from the first semester are combined into one class for the second semester. Students who have not met the threshold to advance to intermediate from the previous semester's elementary level are put together with the previous semester's beginner students who did not make it to the accelerated pre-intermediate group. This causes a certain amount of tension in the general class dynamics, and the prior elementary students, who end up repeating much of what they did (or did not) learn, in particular have a mindset that makes them more likely to misuse their digital devices. 

Rather than banning the phones, I convinced my teaching partner to try implementing a Responsible Use Policy in our class.  The idea was to attempt to get all the students, regardless of their previous semester groups, to collectively agree on what was acceptable use of digital technologies in class for their mutual benefit.  This is what we did in our class.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Can computers replace teachers? Cambridge "Write and Improve" automated writing assessment - does it work in practice?

It's been well over twenty years since people started debating whether computers would ever replace teachers.  Of course, there will always be a need for teachers and the real human interaction that is part of learning, so the question is not so much about computer replacing teachers, but what kind of relationship will teachers (and their students) form with the emerging artificial intelligent entities to provide enhanced learning opportunities.

In my quest to discover such artificially intelligent entities, I came across the Cambridge Write and Improve site, in BETA, which lets students submit their writing and receive 'feedback' from an algorithm that analyses the student's writing using the knowledge it has acquired by examining millions of words written by other learners of English taking various Cambridge proficiency exams.

I was curious to see how useful AI feedback would be to a students, so I found a writing from one of my students in a pre-intermediate class, and typed it in to the Write and Improve site.  In fact, this was the final draft of a writing task done in class, so the student had gone through two previous drafts.  In the  Cambridge English "Write and Improve" site, there are options to write about pre-defined topics, aligned to the typical types of topics given in the Cambridge exams. Presumably, the feedback would be more focused and detailed for these. However, there is an  ANY OTHER OPTION for writing about any topic, so I used that.   Here is the text of the final draft which the student had written about the similarities between high school and an English preparatory school:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What should we learn from the Finns about education?

The Finns are well known for their excellence in education - Finland is top of the scales that assess and compare national systems of education.

How do they do it?  Quite simple:
  • Children don't start formal education until the age of seven.
  • The formative years focus on having fun in learning, being physically active and being creative.
  • Any formal examinations are banned until the age of 18
  • “Teaching to the test” is an alien concept. 
  • Free school meals are universally provided.
  • Pay teachers the same as doctors.
  • Forsake streaming by ability.
  • Ensure that all schools have equal funding and staffing, so students simply go to their nearest school
  • Abolish selective grammar schools.
  • Privatization of schools and competition between schools based on league tables do not exist.
  • Outlawing school selection to demonstrate commitment to equality (on both moral and economic grounds)
How does your national education system measure up to these criteria?  Not very well, I suspect.  But the even bigger question is why don't we learn from the Finns???

Wonder why one-third of school children in the US are obese?

Think what an MRI would tell us about their brains!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

todaysmeet for in-class brainstorming


I'm sure there are many websites, tools and apps that can be used to collaborate one way or another. I first came across this website during a workshop and the presenter asked us to send our questions online via this website so that she could answer them when there was opportunity during the presentation or if not, it would be possible for her to respond to those later on. We could also comment on each other's questions or comments. Thus, while the person was presenting, a kind of online discussion was going on along the presentation.

Every now and then I try to use this tool in my classes. To collect sentences regarding a specific grammar structure, to get their ideas about something specific, etc. Just recently, I've decided to use it for a brainstorming activity before a writing task. The writing handout focuses on writing a problem solution paragraph. Thus, the problem, "culture shock"..... first, we worked on the definition and how we feel when we experience culture shock. I asked the students to do some quick online research using their smart devices in-class (mobile phones, pads, tablets etc.). Then, we came up with some key points like: foreign, abroad, away from home, new, different people, different cultures, difficult etc... and then we tried to decide how we felt; frustrated, lonely, nervous, anxious, afraid, sad etc. . While we were discussing these, I noted these key words on the whiteboard. Now, it was time to talk about the solutions. I asked them to go to the website: "" (this room is now closed because I'm done with the exercise.) Now, here let me explain how it works:

You log in to Then, you pick a name for your room (in my case above it was "cultureshockproblemsolution"). If that name is not taken or not in use at that time, you'll have the room. For instance, I'll just try one for this post: (screenshot below)
And as you can see, you can select how long you want the room to be open. I'll pick one year for this one and let's see if anything comes up in the meantime. You can let anyone, or people with a password and login to send messages. Then you open the room. 

Now, everyone can send a message there. Back to my class activity...After we finished about describing and talking about culture shock, it was time to talk about the possible solutions. I asked them to go to the webpage and send their ideas as messages. I have to say they liked it better than writing on paper or the whiteboard. However, I have to admit that sometimes they can get "naughty-ish" :) but that's ok of course (as long as there's no offense or bad language of somesort...anyways). In a couple of minutes, there were lots of ideas. also gives you the "teacher tools" option but to use some tools you need to purchase an account. Anyways, while the room is on and running you can get the messages as a text file and what I did was to compile similar ideas together. Then, I photocopied them and brought them back to class. Now, students have ideas, vocabulary and major and minor ideas that they can use in their paragraphs. Please find below some examples:

Of course I didn't edit students' responses. Therefore, even if they want to use some of these ideas, they need to come up with the correct word order, part of speech etc.

I just wanted to share one idea that I tried and worked...

All the best,


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Using GIFs Part-2


Just recently I've mentioned a couple of ideas about using GIFs and animation in presentations. While I was thinking about how I could use them to practice responses to different situations, I just decided to give it a try to practice "noun clauses". Well, here's what I did...I found some animated gif images and simply inserted them in slides (you don't have to do that; I could have just shown the images). Anyway, then, I asked students in pairs to build/write sentences which included noun clauses (of course after the presentation of noun clauses) based on the animation image they saw. The sentences could be about what they character was thinking, what had happened, what might happen etc. And I gave them about 2 minutes for each image.

Here are two examples of the animations and students' sentences:

"It is clear that he is disappointed.",
"We all know that he admitted the situation.",
"What you have done is ridiculous."
"It is obvious that he is absolutely sad."
"It was a pity that he didn't know what to do."

"That we're having a double wedding is so surprising."
"That her boyfriend sent her a Valentine's Day gift was surprising."
"It is obvious that she's happy."
"She is surprised by the fact that the dinner is ready."

I think, such animations can be used in practicing lots of other areas as well, like "What's happening? (present continuous), describe the person/character (adjectives, relative clauses, adverbs), What happened? (simple past), What has just happened (present perfect), etc."

All the best,

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Using animated Gifs in presentations

I like using animated GIF images here and there (wherever appropriate of course :)) although they seem to be somehow older technology. Today, I was preparing a PowerPoint presentation about "noun clauses" and at one point in the slides I'm asking students if the sentences are correct or false. And after their responses, to show which sentences are OK and which ones are not, I decided to use animated GIF images (nodding-yes and no). Thus, Googling I found these two websites:


and I serached for "Nod, yes, no etc" and then from the library of animated GIF images I picked the ones I liked and put them in my slide (referring to the sites).

- There are also online & offline animated GIF makers if you feel like creating your own animated GIf images. Some of them...


- Of course, with the advance of mobile and smart devices, one can easily create animations & videos using their smart devices as well. Actually, Google-Photos, for instance, has an "Assistant" feature via which you can create animations from your photos. And I'm sure there are other Adroid or "I-" applications available to do that.

I think using such items in presentations from time to can add to the liveliness of the presentations (perhaps even a bit nostalgia...)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Vocabulary Video Dictionary

Students can watch videos, listen and find out about words. There is a search tool and you can also search for different words by focusing on meaning and how it used.

It might be fun and effective way to learn vocabulary and collocations and context.

When you log in as a user the site can keep track of your work. It creates a list of words you study and sends it to you at the end of the week. One can also create flashcards, read the transcriptions of videos.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Using Google's Ngram Viewer might be interesting

I've recently been interested in Google's Ngram Viewer regarding differences in spelling of some words such as travelling vs traveling, busses vs buses or learned vs learnt. Of course, there are many reasons for such spelling differences, however, it might attract the attention of students to see how the common use of some words (they don't really have to be problem words in spelling, could be any word) has changed over time. This might help them to understand the idea that language is like a biological organism and that it changes over time and that there is not just one exact fact or true answer to every question they may have. Also it might be helpful for us teachers as well to explain them why they see one spelling more than the other.

Here is an example looking at the phrase 'Merry Christmas' versus 'Happy Christmas'. Upon closer inspection to the dates, it appears that the peaks and troughs are associated with major wars: World War One, World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

True Confessions (Speaking activity)

When I saw this video of the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, I thought it would make a great speaking activity. Here's how you do it:

You divide the students into groups and ask everyone to write down two confessions. One of them should be something interesting that actually happened to them, and the other should be a lie.  Someone from the group starts by reading one of their confessions. The other group members have 60 seconds (you can of course give more time if necessary) to interrogate the confessor. When the time is up, they have to guess whether s/he is lying or telling the truth. The group members take one turn each. If the students find the confession interesting, they can ask more questions after they have made their guesses.

Originally published on Tech-savvy English.