Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Collaborative Learning’

The “Art” of Sailing…and Collaborative LEARNing (from GUEST BLOGGER Laurence Raw)

In Adult Learners, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 18/08/2013 at 2:51 pm
Creativity (Duras quote on seeing 01)
I have just spent four days watching the conclusion of the Tall Ships race in Szczecin, Poland, as well as attending a conference dedicated to the metaphor of the sea in humanities learning.
Watching the tall ships was a fascinating event, especially when one of them sailed into dry dock, accompanied by the crew singing Egyptian sea-shanties to the accompaniment of the bagpipes (an interesting transcultural experience there).
Sailing and Teamwork (Slocum quote 01)
As I watched, I could not help but admire the way the crew acted as a community of purpose – not only playing and singing their own music, but working with one another to ensure the ship’s safe passage into the dock.  I wondered why such communities could not be forged elsewhere – especially in the academy or educational institution.
The next two days were spent listening to papers at the conference, and I soon understood why.  Although ostensibly dedicated to transcultural learning and teaching, the majority of pieces were dominated by what might be described as binary oppositions (black/ white, learner/ educator, west/east, America/Europe, Democrat/ Republican) that are necessarily exclusive in concept: one part of the binary is necessarily reinforced at the expense of the other.  Educators assume more importance in classes than learners; Mainstream American cultures are prioritized in curricula at the expense of locally produced cultures; the list is endless.
Sailing and Teamwork (Pat Riley quote 01)
I reflected a little, and wondered if we might find alternative ways of thinking by returning to the idea of tall ships and the sea.  To negotiate stormy waters, a crew must learn to act together; to take into account their differing strengths and abilities and use them to forge a prosperous community dedicated to the tasks in hand.  This should also be the basis of every learning experience; to negotiate the stormy waters of criticism, funding, syllabus or classroom issues, members of an academic community – whether at the school or university level – should take heed of the ship’s crew, and learn how to work inclusively rather than exclusively.
To do this requires a fundamental shift in thinking.  It means that greater attention needs to be paid to “why” questions rather than “what” questions, especially where learning issues are concerned.  Everyone should acknowledge that learning is messy; it cannot be shoehorned into binary oppositions, as everyone (whether learners or educators) learns and reacts in different ways.  A community of purpose should give each of its members the time and space to think, as well as determine their roles within that community.
Change (David Thoreau quote)
Through this subtle shift of approach, I believe that a learning community can become like a ship’s crew, piloting themselves (as well as their institutions) through the Scylla and Charybdis of obstacles, so that they can land safely in dry dock.  Until the next voyage, that is.
I wonder if it would work?
Laurence Raw (aka @laurenceraw on Twitter)
Baskent University – Ankara, Turkey
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey

LEARN to “SPEAK” İngilizce…in 10,000 hours (this time)!

In ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 02/01/2013 at 7:16 pm

expletive bubble


Yes, you would thunk that, wouldn’t you?


Especially if you had read my more “uplifting” post – LEARN to “SPEAK” English…in 15 hours (maybe even 2)! – a week or so ago!


It’s funny, isn’t it, how we all respond to different types of “news” in such radically different ways:

Bad news

…we don’t like so much!


When I wrote that original post, I was still under the influence of all that “Christmas Cheer” we hear so much about – around this time of year!

BUT, in a darker corner of my grey matter…another “number” was hiding there lurking stirring – a much BIGGER number!

Besides, you have to admit…a title suggesting you can “LEARN a language in 15 hours” is gonna get you a lot more “hits” on your blog!


THAT number!

Khan (from Kirk)

Damn you…Anders…Anders Ericsson!



Hang on…just hold your horses, there! I thought the “10,000-hour geezer” was called Malcolm…Malcolm GLADwell?

Damn him…even moreso!



Shiriously…I was not so “GLAD” or “WELL” when I first read about “that number”…really bummed me out (and all my summer LEARNing plans) a couple of years back!

Anders…is a decent bloke (have a look at his seminal paper – HEREif you have a 2-hr commute in front of you).


Malcolm (and “his dog” – yes, the secret is “out”) drew on Anders’ work with the “10,000-hour rule” in his book “Outliers” – he claims he wrote the book because he could not find a decent way to explain the careers of really successful people – people like Bill Gates or the Beatles.

But, we all know his dog wanted a lakeside property in Medina!



In a nutshell

The “rule” states that if you want to be really “GREAT” at something, you gotta invest around 10,000 hours to attain that “GREATness“!

…with the Lads from Liverpool, it was “playing time” in Hamburg!

…with Bill Amca, it was “programming” (though Steve Jobs may disagree)!

…with ME, it was going to be “classical piano”, “igloo-building” and “knitting”all till that fateful Summer!

Damn you… Malcolm…Malcolm GLADwell!


Those of you that know the blog…from back in the day…know that one of my very first posts was entitled:

How many hours does it take to LEARN English, Hocam?

Whoopsidaisies! …that’s the Turkish version.

Try this ONE


Now, in that post…and remember it was one of my first…so do not give me a hard time about the poor quality of images (had only clocked up 25-30 hours by then)…I was trying to see if the “guided learning hours” (GLHs) suggested by ELT publishers and their textbook writers could, in fact, lead to GREATness in ELL for our LEARNers here in Turkey.

Those numbers (or “classroom hours”) were a bit like this (in terms of the main “CEFR Levels):

A1 – 80-100 GLHs

A2 – 180-200 GLHs

B1 – 350-400 GLHs

B2 – 550-600 GLHs

C1 – 750-800 GLHs

C2 – 1000-1200 GLHs


According to these “textbook experts”all a LEARNer (wishing to become an “expert” in the English Language) has to do is “sit” in a classroom for a “maximum” of 1,200 GLHs (and by “guided” we mean…by a TEACHer…armed with nothing but a “textbook” – a CD player and a projector, perhaps)!

expletive bubble

Yes, you would say that, wouldn’t you?


I have said morea LOT more!

And, to be fair, some textbook writers do say more…a few of them “add” (in very small print…in the TEACHer’s Book) that EL LEARNers do need to do a fair bit of “self-study” (whatever that is) – from the “workbook” no doubt!


Could it be that Malcolm (and Anders) are “wrong“? Or…is it the case that those “pesky textbook writers”…and their “evil-doer approach” to marketing and flogging their “wares” have been leading us, well and truly, up the garden path?

Screen Shot 2012-12-30 at 11.54.10


Let’s do “the Math”!


Come on, Tony – you know all we ELL / ELT folk are a bit “thick” when it comes to the “old ‘rithmetic“!


Not to worry…


ENTER stage left…


Sarah Eaton, a wonderful ELL Consultant from Canada – and a fellow “Jedi blogger“.

I have mentioned Sarah a fair few times on allthingslearning – and she has often extended more than a helping hand to little ‘ole moi with my bouts of bloggery!

Sarah did a great paper on the time required to become “an ELL expert” – and published a version on her own blog (Literacy, Languages and Leadership).


In her paper, she suggested a number of “scenarios” (you know how I loves me “mini-cases”):

Scenario #1: One 3-hour adult education course per week x 8 weeks = 24 hours

Scenario #2: One year of language learning in school = 4 hours per week x 12 weeks x 2 semesters = 96 hours

Scenario #3: 1 year of consistent, dedicated self-study (or homework) at 1 hour per day = 365 hours

Scenario #4: One year of total immersion in the new language (Assuming that in a 24-hour day, we allow 8 hours for sleeping per day) = 16 hours per day x 365 days = 5840 hours


Sarah then applied the “10,000-hour rule” to each of her scenarios to see exactly how long it would take the LEARNers in these scenarios to achieve “expert ability” in a foreign language…like English:

Scenario #1 – Adult education classes – 416 courses of 24 hours per course. If you did 2 courses per year, you’d need 208 years to become fluent.

Scenario #2 – Foreign language studies at school – 96 hours of classes per year = 104 years to achieve fluency.

Scenario #3 – Dedicated self-study – An hour a day, every single day of the year = 365 hours per year = 27 years

Scenario #4 – Total immersion – Approximately 2 years


Go to the image (at the very top of the post)

– YOU know what to “say“!


Sarah does a grand job of fleshing out the ideas behind her numbers (and the complexities such numbers might “hide”) – have a look at the full paper HERE.

One of the things I like (at the end of her paper) is also how she “re-frames” the questions LEARNers should ask.

Instead of ASKing:

“How long will it take me to become fluent in English, hocam?”

…she suggests that LEARNers need to ASK:

“How do I get my 10,000 hours of study and practice to become fluent in English?”

Wonderful question! 




…is, basically (for both of us), that the “classroom” and all the GLHs on the planet are NOT going to help our LEARNers become “experts” in English or English Language LEARNing (perhaps…the more important of the two).


Both Sarah and I also make the point that it is (kindaimpossible to accurately calculate the hours needed to LEARN a language – as ELL depends on factors such as the LEARNer’s language background, levels of individual engagement, the LEARNer’s age and motivation (even “gender” – yes, girls still do generally kick ass in the right environment), and the amount of study and exposure outside the classroom!



…I also focussed on the quality of “TEACHing” (something many “commentators” often forget to mention) – another “inconvenient truth” here in Turkey (as in many other countries)!


We all know, don’t we, that:

LEARNing 16

Especially, in matters of allthingsELL!


We also know (don’t we) that “hazırlık” or “prep school” is about (a lot) more than “just” language LEARNing – university-level EL LEARNers also need to be helped to “de-tox” and focus on personal development, self-study (& reflection), self-assessment and “personal accountability” (in addition to classroom-based GLHs) to realise “effective language LEARNing“.

Not exactly what you might call a “piece o’ cake”…

Duh (TG ver 4 blog)

This is especially the case if most of the recommended GLHs we are told about are given over to “grammar rules and transformation exercises” or are grounded on teachers “spoon-feeding” students discrete skills worksheets – rather than expert instruction in skills development from their TEACHers, meaningful reflection and self-assessment on the part of LEARNers and timely and focussed feedback.

The real problem is that 25-30 hours a week of being “trapped in a hazırlık classroom” for so many months is just “too much”  (many TEACHers would agree with this).

Sorry – to have to “pop” this little bubble – BUT…this is not an “effective way” to conduct the “business” of language LEARNing.

Hey, and we haven’t even got to the issue of “section or class size” – come on, can we really create  an effective language LEARNing environment for groups of 25+?

The CLASSROOM - weapons of mass instruction

We (just) know ALL this – on a “experiential” and a “moral” level….in our heart-of-hearts!



LEARNing not a newspaper

We TEACHers (and institutions) need new questions for 2013heck, we have needed these new questions for years! Yes, language LEARNing is complex…yes, it is tough…yes, it requires “effort“!

But, we ain’t gonna tackle these issues with more of the same-old-same-old – “bumping up” the number of contact hours in a given week, creating a 3rd “summer break semester” (or 5th “summer school module”).

I suppose we could consider – “dropping standards” to allow more students to get a “free pass” into freshman without fully evidencing the levels of language proficiency we know are required on English-medium academic programmes…

We could…but no-one would ever do “that”…would they?


Whitby QUOTATION (Better EDU cators)


It is “collaborative effort” on the part of both TEACHers and LEARNers that will make the “real difference”


Share Share Share


I hope it doesn’t take us 10,000 hours to work that little “secret” out!


LEARN to “SPEAK” İngilizce…in 15 hours (maybe even 2)!

In ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 28/12/2012 at 11:02 am

Mmmm…this one is gonna get me in trouble, againain’t it?

School (Pink Floyd)

But, not sure with whom…this time!


Recently, I’ve been thunking a lot about “successful language LEARNing” – you might have seen a couple of the recent posts I have been doing… “bouts of bloggery” that I have been trying to squeeze in between my bouts of “ferry-hopping” with my big, little girl (and her mummy) here in big, bad Istanbul!

Yes, I am a “rovving blogger” for a couple of weeks!


When ELL professionals think about these things – “SUCCESSful LEARNers” that is – we tend to turn to the “experts” – experts like Jack Richards:

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 10.34.27

…BTW, this is a “video-based” post (sorry, should have said this before)!

So, bookmark it – if you do not have around 35 minutes to check out all the lovely videos I’m planning to use…and “share” in this post.


I love Jack…I do! He LEARNed me so much when I was a young(er) TEACHer… despite his matching “shirts n’ glasses” (Sorry, Jack…read that first sentence again)!

If you listen (and watch) very carefully…he says a lot of very smart things. Smart things he LEARNed from one of his students. A lot of smart things that (even more) smart TEACHersknow“…but sadly do not always “apply” to their classroom TEACHing.

Watch the video again…go on (it’s not that long)! Ask yourself:

How many of the things that Jack’s student “does”…do you “effectively” (that’s a key word here) build into the classroom LEARNing opportunities YOU develop for YOUR own LEARNers?

…and, I do not mean what you simply “tell” your students is “a good idea”!


Essentially, what is at the heart of Jack’s “advice” is the BIG idea in Lauren B. Resnick’s seminal article From Aptitude to Effort: A New Foundation for Our Schools– or herThird Possibility“:

“…that EFFORT actually creates ABILITY, that people can become smart by working hard at the right kinds of LEARNing tasks – has never been taken seriously in America or indeed in any European society, although it is the guiding assumption of EDUcation institutions in societies with a Confucian tradition.”

(Resnick, L. “From Aptitude to Effort: A New Foundation for Our Schools.” Daedalus, Fall 1995, 124(4), 55-62).


As Lauren pointed out  (almost 20 years ago – WTH will we ever LEARN to listen to folk?) – the “secret” to LEARNing (LEARNing languages even) is really all about the “EFFORT”.


not a TEACHer’s effort…the LEARNer’s (own) EFFORT!


OK, and to be fair, Lauren does tell us that “expert instruction” (along with clear expectations; fair evaluation; payoffs for success; the time needed to meet LEARNing expectations) and “the right kinds of LEARNing tasks” – are all very important!


The thing isme (still) thunks…we TEACHers so rarely ask LEARNers what the “right kind” of LEARNing tasks are!

Carry the Can (really really TG ver)

And, while the voices of experts, like Jack and Lauren may be good for TEACHer LEARNing – we really need to ask why it is that so little seems to “change” in the way we TEACHers (and our institutions) “do” the “business” of LEARNing.


I have said before:

truth 02

…it still is!


Maybe, and this is just a shot in the dark here, we need different ways to promote both TEACHer and LEARNer LEARNing – and maybe “expert” instruction from “experts”…is not the way…for LEARNers!

For example, take a look at this little video:


Wouldn’t you just LOVE to have 20-25 “clones” of Alex in every class?

Maybe not! We already have enough TEACHers on poor salaries, 11-month contracts…and no benefits!


And, if you have a bit of time on your hands, this one, too:


Yeah, I get suspicious of these “promo-type” videos, too!


BUT, there’s a lot of food-for-thought in there…a LOT of food-for-thunking!

I’m guessing…students might “feel” more…about these types of “materials” – the “trick” is for classroom EDUcators to turn them into “REAL LEARNing tasks”!


I’ll be honest (when am I ever NOT?), as an EDUcatorsome of these things still scare the beejeebers out of me!


You mean I have to forget all “my” years of “TEACHing experience”?  

Wot? I have to discard all those “masters” courses I took (and am still paying for)?

You mean I have to re-thunk my “perspective” on TEACHing?

YES (red exlam tilted)

OK – maybe NOT totally!


…but, considering our “success” levels (not just in Turkey…around the globe) – guys, we have to “do” something “different”. And, more importantly, we have to help our LEARNers “detox” and “head into the LIGHT” (no, not “that” light – the light of “REAL LEARNing”)!

We just have to LISTEN more!


Last week, I was introduced to a young Turkish guy – named Alpay. He was a student a few years back – studying American Culture and Literature. He got so frustrated that his “high school” and “prep school” experiences were just not doing it for him…he could not “speak”…and his TEACHers…were just not helping him…at all!

He couldn’t (like Alex) travel around the globe with his parents. He did not have a great deal of spare cash (he also had to do a 2-hr commute to school everyday – and another 2 hrs back)…but he came up with his own “solution”.

He managed to scrape together enough dosh to get himself a second-hand iPodnot an iPadnot an iPhonean iPod! He began downloading…music, TV shows, movies…and “dedicated” his 4-hrs on the bus to watching and listening to his “collection”!

The results “spoke” for themselves…when he chatted with me and my friends.

I was impressed! VERY impressed!


His “efforts“… his “wants” and “needs” were met through an iPod…and a bit ‘o time on an Istanbul bus – not a classroom!

OK – I can hear some of you mumbling (under your breath): “He’s special, Tony – don’t be so naive”!


Every LEARNer is “special”!


This morning…I showed all these videos (and the rough draft of this post) to my big, little girl…she is a student and is getting ready to graduate this year.

I trust her “thunks” in matters of allthingslearning…like most students (as opposed to her TEACHers) …she is the only one that truly “knows” about “her LEARNing”.

I asked her to “rank” the videos in terms of the “impact” they might have on Language LEARNers. You know what she said first?

I want to “meet” this Alpay guy…I want to “talk” to him!


LEARNers do NOT LEARN because they “STUDY” a lot…

OMG (TG ver 4 blog)

…they LEARN because they “WANT” to!


The (classroom) TEACHer’s “job” (then) is…to “co-create” a classroom environment that places this at the very forefront of LEARNers‘ minds…and not by (simply) “telling” them that “study” and “hard work” will always “win out“…

…or coming up with “systems” that “force” them to do what they do NOT “want” to do!

There…I said it!

Students are sick to death (they are, you know…just ask a few of them) of TEACHerspreaching at” them (from the “pulpit” at the front of the classroom) about the virtue of “study”.


Time to LEARN


“Tell me. I may not get it, I’m sure to forget it.
Show me. I may get it, I’ll remember it for a little while.
Have me do it. I’ll understand it, it may stick for awhile.”


I found this “upgraded” version of that old Confucian chestnut this morning (Thx Mohan) – my big, little girl wanted to qualify this a wee bit:

Let me “TALK” to someone that “knows”!


Could we, as TEACHers, “do” something “more” with these thunksa New Year’s resolution or three, perhaps?

Evolving the LEARNing Paradigm…

In Adult Educators, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 21/12/2012 at 2:04 am

Tony Wagner QUOTATION (isolation)

A while back I stumbled upon a new blog (well, “new” for “me”) – Free-Range ELT from Kathy FagenKathy has a very interesting back-story herself  but it was her post “Should We Be Student-Centred?” that caught my eye…


Besides, she is also a lover of allthingsParkerPalmer:

Palmer QUOTATION - Circle of Trust

and Dogme!


Initially, when I looked at the “title” of Kathy’s post, my reaction (you know me) was a bit like:

Duh (TG ver 4 blog)

BUT, as I read, I started to see where she was coming from.

What do they say about that little word “assume” – and how it can make an “ASS” out of “U” and “ME”)…


Like Kathy…I have never been a “fan” of the term “student-centred”.

I have never really “got” why there really needs to be a “debate” about whether TEACHers should be “TEACHer-centred” or “STUDENT-centred”. Surely, the “whole point” of any type of formal EDUcation is the “student”! 

OK, I prefer the terms “LEARNer” and “LEARNing” – but we all know (don’t we?) that TEACHing is just one of the “means”, not the “ends” of EDUcation.

BUTthen again…we do have that little issue of the “design flaw” that so many of our schoolscolleges and universities seem to have  hard-wired into their DNA:

Barr and Tagg QUOTATION (1995)

Go on – click on the image to read the Barr & Tagg article!


Maybe, I am a bit “thick” – I still do not get why a school or university would be designed for the “convenience” of ADMINistrators, TEACHers…and INSTRUCTion

…rather than for the convenience of LEARNers and their LEARNing!


Tony…this is about Kathy and her postnot you…focus!


Kathy said something I loved near the end of her post:

The paradigm-shift that gave birth to the phrase “student-centered learning” is revolutionary.  But I wonder if it isn’t time to step even further along that path.  I’d like to see the line between student, teacher, and the others at a learning institution eliminated completely and replaced with equal respect for our experience, skills, responsibilities, needs and aims.  We are all there to support the same thing: LEARNing.  

Who is the LEARNer?  Who is the TEACHer? 


Yesa woman after my own heart!

I added a comment to Kathy’s post – and talked about the importance of “beliefs“. I also hinted at the fact that it is the beliefs on both “sides” of the “line” – …that are really important. However, as I was writing my comment I had a very specific “story” in the back of my mind…a story that I highlighted in my last post.

My reflections on that post left me feeling a little “sad” – and when I went back to Kathy’s post, I realised that I did not want to link her post to my own (less than positive) “rant”. This is why I have split the posts!

FAILure (Covey quote)

What Kathy proposes in her post is the “way ahead” – it has to be. It is the “natural” stage of evolution for the LEARNing Paradigm.

The LEARNers in our schools, colleges and universities are the “co-creators” of their own LEARNing – and, as Barr and Tagg remind us “they” can, and must, take responsibility for their own LEARNing.


Whitby QUOTATION (Better EDU cators)


What I liked about Kathy’s (more optimistic) view is that it is grounded on LISTENing…and LEARNingby TEACHer LEARNers. Just as “students” need to evolve into LEARNers by taking more responsibility for their own LEARNing, “teachers” can evolve into TEACHer LEARNers by accepting other types of responsibilities.


Block (fingerprint quote)


As Barr and Tagg (also) remind us: 

responsibility is a win-win game wherein two agents take responsibility for the same outcome even though neither is in complete control of all the variables. When two agents take such responsibility, the resulting synergy produces powerful results.