Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘pacing guides’

So…What Exactly Should Curriculum Planning Look Like – for 2017/18? (Part 01)

In Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 22/07/2017 at 7:37 am

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I know, I know…most of us are still on holiday…but I am sure there are a few of us out there that are (already) experiencing anxiety about some of the tasks we have to complete when we get back to the factory floor. Especially, if a new textbook was selected just before the semester ended…

Do NOT worry…I am here to help you get over that anxiety and give you the PERFECT curriculum planning toolshiriously!

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…and it won’t cost you any more than the price you paid for this blog post!


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As with any planning system, we need to decide on the key concepts that will guide us – and I have found, as we are in ELT, that 3 work wonderfully:

PLANof course!

IMPLEMENTbecause we have to take stuff into the classroom!

TESTwell, just because…we love doing this! OK…we want to check what has been learned!


The first of these steps is sooooooo easy…and involves 3 more mini-steps – take a gander:

Blog Post (Curric) Image 04 220717And, here’s you getting all worked up during your holiday! Most of you have already done mini-step 01 (hey, some of you might even be using Headway…even though the authors died 10 years back)! The key, however, is mini-step 03 – once you have the pacing guideline (the weekly ‘checklist’ of stuff to teach), you are more than halfway home. Indeed, if you work in a Curriculum Unit you can start planning your holiday for July 2018!


Now, the teacher steps up to the plate – ready to breathe life into the wonderful documents you have created.

What do they need to do?

Again…easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy:

Blog Post (Curric) Image 05 2207173 more mini-steps even a burger-flipper at McDonalds can execute! Again, the trick here is to make sure you stay on track…covering every activity (except those pesky ‘pronunciation boxes’ and maybe that last ‘speaking task’after all, who needs them…and besides…you’ve run out of time)!



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Ahhh, now we come to the home stretch…because we all know that ‘assessment’ is really the ‘curriculum’ for every single student. I mean…come on…have you ever heard a student say, ‘Hocam, that was a wonderful lesson – I loved the way you blended those two Learning Outcomes with the notion of critical thinking and creativity through that truly authentic and communicative information gap task’!

Voilà – this is how:

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3 final mini-steps even the most mathematically-challenged ELT teacher could follow (with a calculator and a pre-prepared spreadsheet)! OK, OK…that last one can be tough on the old heart-strings… ‘but I did warn you to study more and not play with that bloody phone of yours so much’!

AND, that…ladies and gentlemen…is how you do it!


Tried and tested all over the globe – a model that has found its way into…

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…and I gave it you HERE…for:

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Life doesn’t get better than that…for a teacher (and that means most of us) on a salary less than 50% of what she is worth!


CPD Blog Post 170717 slide 09 TG

Well, as a great Jedi…sorry…Reiki Master told me,

‘You get what you pay for’!


What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (The Postscript)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 09/10/2012 at 9:28 pm

At the very start of this mini-series (Pt 01), I kicked off with a little mini-quiz asking you to thunk about the collocations and synonyms stored in your grey matter vis-a-vis the word “curriculum”

OK – so I stacked to odds in my favour a wee bit!

But, I felt “cheeky” enough to ask whether my seeming ability to “guess” what was on your mind meant that (either) I was a really smart cookie or just really good at Jedi Mind Tricks

I’m not really that smart (as my darling wife knows all too well) – just got almost 30 years of making silly EDUmistakes under me belt…and a whole lot of LEARNing from them!


However, I am savvy enough to know that when I do a post…like the last one (Pt 06)…or the Pt 05 that I did a couple of days ago, I’m going to get a reaction or 3

One of these…from one of my favourite “friendly critics”…came almost 2 minutes…yes, I said 2 minutes…after I published the last installment.

It went something like this:

Now, I know this was probably a cunning ruse to get a rise from me…someone trying to rattle my cage.

It worked!


The thing is that there are still many of us out there in EDUland that do not get what Krissy was getting at…or the thunking behind many of the choices that great TEACHers make…Every. Single. Day…

I guess I need to explain this a wee bit…


When someone asks you for a “checklist” or a set of Top 10 “tricks n’ hints”, what they are really asking is:

Looks harmless enough, yes?


Unless you “notice”…something in the “way” they ask this question. That “way” can tell you a lot more than the six little letters that make up the question itself.

In fact, you can tell even more from the other questions that often come in its wake:

Do you “smell” it now?


…especially “that” last onestinks to high heaven of:


Now, I wish I could say all these questions were the product of my own grey matter – created by Peter Block they were (see, I did not forget what I hinted at in Pt 06 – and, it’s almost as if my “friendly critic” were as good at Jedi Mind Tricks as I is, too)!

But…I’ve “heard” them enough (or versions of them) over the decades!


Peter highlights these questions to show how we have all become obsessed with “how-to pragmatism” – a product of living in an answer-orientated world and its love affair with the notion of best practice

…and a preference for asking the quick-fix question “What works?” rather than the far more important question “What matters?”!


The resultin EDUcation?

The McDonaldification of LEARNing…embodied is such lovely little projects as “School-in-a-box” – projects that make some people almost as rich as God but…you know the rest!


The problemall over the world?

When we ask “how to do” something, suggests Peter, the very question expresses our bias for what is practical, concrete, and immediately useful, often at the expense of the really important stuff!

Often, the very question itself (and all its little “mates”) becomes a defence against action. If you smelled me earlier, you’d have worked out that these questions are frequently used as “tools” by those who want to “keep their heads down and stick to the rules”rather than “acting on what matters”.


The solution…says Peter (again) is to get back to asking powerful questionsthe right questions and paying careful attention to bringing people together as an engaged community.


Questions like:





Now, you see where I get it all from…it’s in the genes, too!


I dare you!


OK – let me be dead honest hereyes, I usually tells fibs left, right and centre on the blog!

I do not actually believe that most TEACHers do ask all of Peter’s “how-to-pragmatism” questions (administrators and EDUmoney-guys – Mmmm, that’s a different story) or use them as “tools” to avoid “change”.

I think many of us have simply fallen foul of the 21st Century “illness” in EDUcationmore and more of us are doing more and more about things that mean less and less!

…and WE let this happen to US!


Now, I know some of you actually follow the posts in sequence…and are probably asking:

“What the hell does all this have to do with…”

…around about NOW!


I thunk we can actually use Peter’s logic…to formulate the right kind of questions we should be asking of our curricular, our syllabiour (bloody awful) pacing guides!

…and ask these “together” with other TEACHers…to help re-create the engaged communities of purpose that are hard-wired into all our genes!


Questions like:


…and, you guessed it, others like these:


…in for a kuruş, in for a lira:


…and (not forgetting where I comes from) – in for a pound, in for a penny:




Because…Alberts says so:


…and, you just know he is more than just a pretty face!


Peter (though not as “sexy” as Albert) tells us that meaningful change or transformation can never come from collecting lists of best practices (or “tweets”) –

…to have to “pop” that little bubble (again)!


…it comes from asking profound questions that “entail paradox, questions that recognize that every answer creates its own set of problems” (2003: p.27).


Time to “take back” our classrooms, our curricular…our own CPD!



If you read only ONE book today, make it Peter Block’s THE ANSWER TO HOW IS YES 

What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (Pt 06)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 09/10/2012 at 8:37 am

Yes…ME…”Mr. Question” himself…was asking the wrong bloody question…all the way through this mini-series!

Yep…the bloke who has been saying:

…for ages!


The same geezer who has been talking about a questioning culture – and has not been answering the questions you want him to answer…because he became a “disciple” of Peter Block so many bloody years ago!

Peter…like me…just “hates” (OK – that may be an over-statement) the quick “fix” approach to LEARNing:

…the approach that so many schools, colleges and universities seem to have adopted over the years!


But, let’s stick with individual TEACHers for a moment…so much more “fun”!


In Pt 03, I told you about Krissy (aka @ktvee)well, I went back to her blog after finishing up Pt 05…and saw that she had modified her poster on Classroom A and Classroom B to this:

What she was doing here was “adapting” or “evolving” her own thunking about TEACHing…about LEARNing – like all good TEACHers…she does this a lot!

AND…does it very publicly (like all good bloggers).

She was also emphasising that her “description” of Classroom A and Classroom B…was not meant to be seen as a Sith “either-or-option (something I might be accused of)!

…but rather was trying to reinforce the idea that we all need to be looking for “Classroom C” – the classroom that captures the “spirit” of what UNcovering your CURRICULUM…is meant to be.


The key, Krissy tells us is, is to “DEFINE YOUR CLASSROOM”:


When I look at TEACHers like Krissy, I don’t just see a great TEACHer with a great blog (with some even greater graphics – you know, I luvs me graphics too) – I see some thunking, some principles…some choices:



…about the type of LEARNing that will be co-created in the classroom. A clue – it is NOT one of the “red” ones!



…about the perspective we take on what curriculum is really all about. And, one that moves on from just “having a perspective on curriculum”to “TAKING a CURRICULUM PERSPECTIVE”.



…about the way we “do business” in the classroom. Erica says it all!


These CHOICES are not “quick fixes”…these are not “magic bullet recipes” for “UNcovering your CURRICULUM”

…they are CHOICES that matter!

What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (Pt 05)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 07/10/2012 at 11:39 am

NO….I did not ask all those questions in Pt 04 of this mini-dizi just to give you a headache!



I did it to show that many institutions (even some of the so-called “EDUhigh-fliers”) have a long way to go to really help their TEACHersUNcover the CURRICULUM. They simply have not made the “paradigm jump” (and sorry for what you are about to look at below, again)…that would make their TEACHers’ jobs a lot easier…a lot more fulfilling and satisfying!


Till they do…it falls to individual TEACHers!


I know that I am sometimes a wee bit too cerebral (hence all the piccies of grey matter) – I know some people get a bit annoyed that I “ask” far more than I “answer”.


But…when I started this series I actually promised meself that I’d make it really “practical” – you know, focus on practical ways that TEACHers could LEARN about UNcovering their own CURRICULUM…

…as I noted in Pt 02, more people just use the phrase…rather than talk about how they do it…in practice (or so I thought)!


So, what I did was put a call out…to the tweetiverse:

…my darling wife is always telling me to send out more “positive energy” and “requests” to the tweetiverse…more often…or was that “universe” she was talking about?


Ne se…I got a number of responses:


I also received a fair few e-mails with some suggestions:

ALL…brilliant ideas!


…but still the hashtag (#UNcoveryourcurriculum) was getting pretty “lonely”. So…I decided to hit up a few members of my tweetiverse PLN…with direct messages (DMs) – DMs “begging” for ideas…

The begging worked…sort of:

…wot to do?


I had a deadline…and the best I could manage was a couple of brains (brains that people really did not like to look at – at all)! They were gonna “hate” me again!


…@whatedsaid to the rescue!

Ed (and her “gang”) and I had swapped a couple of mails…and I had vented my frustration that “nobody” was actually saying what they do to UNcover their CURRICULAR!

She corrected me…gave me a bunch of links.


Then it dawned on me (told you I can be a bit thick from time to time)…LOADS of people are talking about it! It’s just that they do not link their ideas to that sexy, sexy phrase!

…Ed even reminded me that “I” do it all the time!


You see…

…and “sharing” – over coffee with other TEACHers, in the blogosphere…on the tweetiverse!


I’d become so bloody obsessed with a “wordbite”…that I was missing the whole bloody point! I had been asking the wrong question…

Me thunks…I need a Pt 06!

What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (Pt 04)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 05/10/2012 at 3:10 pm

As we saw in Pt 03UNcovering your CURRICULUM is all about…

TEACHing for LEARNing


Let me elaboratewith the help of a couple of friends!

When a TEACHer starts to UNcover his CURRICULUM we see a rush of collocations and synonyms that we do not typically associate with Classroom A:

The TEACHer in Classroom B is NOT about…

TEACHing for COVERage


She gets really angry when others try to force her to “just” focus on:

…and you really wouldn’t like her when she’s “angry”!


As we said – it IS all about TEACHers!

Most “UNcovering” is done in the classroom (why do you think we TEACHers get in trouble for “exposing” our students to everything left, right and centre) – what TEACHers “know” and what they “do with” what they know is almost as important as who they “are”! 

BUT…we all have to work with a CURRICULUM, of some sort – and this is why I asked the question I asked right at the start of this post:


OK – so here’s the deal…let me give you 5 minutes to dig out yours…yes, I know you might call it a syllabus (or even a “pacing guide”) – but pull it out, anyways!

Got it?

Sitting comfortably?

Let’s begin…


Well, just before that – could I ask:

We’ll come back to these – promise!


So, take a couple of minutes to shake the dust off it…sorry…flick through it.

Now, ask yourself this:

 If not, you is so lucky – do not leave that institution!


Otherwise…and like most of us…you are probably thunking…and whispering…

 …under your breath!



You see…most institutions do not operate in the way you might assume (from looking at the things they “say” about themselves on their websites…and the brochures they send out to parents)!


…to have to “pop” that little bubble!


If all schools, colleges and universities really caredand I mean “really cared”…about their LEARNers (and TEACHers), they would operate with a curriculum framework that would allow all of us to answer:

…to the following questions:


And then…

…TEACHers would also KNOW how the institution KNOWS these things …as well as KNOWıng that the institution checks in with LEARNers them on a regular basis!


There are a couple of questions that highlight the need for this information in a user-friendly way (LEARNers are users, too):


However,there is another critical factor:


BUT…this is the ONE:


…rather than their “rankings” or how many of their students out-did those “other guys” in the various high-stakes or do-or-die tests we are forced to take these days!

What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (Pt 03)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 05/10/2012 at 8:25 am

I used that imageClassroom A and Classroom B – in a recent post. However, that time I was focussing on whether the “type” of classroom impacted how effectively EdTECH would be adopted – by the TEACHers in that classroom.

Yes, it was really about the TEACHerit still really about the TEACHer, when we talk about UNcovering the Curriculum

I borrowed that image from Krissy (aka @ktvee in the tweetiverse) and recently she did a post entitled – Beyond the Curriculum – yes, you guessed it…you have a reading assignment!

Go onclick on the link (above) to the post…it will take you TWO minutes…and I promise (cross my heart and hope to drop dead) my post will not be as “long” as my last one!


Nice post, yes? Wouldn’t you love to be a kid in that Classroom B!


OK – so just one, tweeny-weeny question:


…well, maybe just one moreWhy does she NOT say this:


TEACHers, like Krissy, just do not say things like this:

…TEACHers like Kath, too!


TEACHers, like Krissy and Kath, believe certain things…have principles like:

…and walk-their-talk…like Ed!


See…I did promise this post would not be that long!


If we are talking about UNcovering our CURRICULUM, surely we need to take a look at the “nature” of the curriculum that lets TEACHers (like Krissy, like Kate, like Ed….like YOU) do what they do even better!

See you soon!

What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (Pt 02)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 02/10/2012 at 12:40 pm

Technically, I guess I should not really call this Pt 02 – you see, I’m just checking in to see how the “googling” is going!

I gave you some questions to thunk over in Pt 01…but I would never ask anyone to do something that I would not do myself – so I thought I’d share a few of the little gems that my own “cruising” threw up.


There were one or two that really got me thunking about the whole issue of UNCOVERing

…I liked this a lot and the whole notion of clarity is a biggie for all of us. But, I’m thunking the second bit of Nick’s idea is just as important – if not more so!


The problem was that I kept digging up a lot of less positive thunks…from TEACHers talking about the whole issue of COVERing the curriculum.

Like this one – for example:

I’m guessing Cris is not alone in thunking like this…and why, oh why so many institutions and systems put their TEACHers into the “educational rat race” is totally beyond me!


The thing is…there are bigger concerns:

Akevy really brings this home, too…

…why do we keep on doing things like this?

Now, if you are anything like me…you will have also uncovered some more…far worrying…”comments”…

…comments that perhaps made you feel like “Al” (it was a great performance though – you gotta admit that – noone can play the “Devil” like Pacino)!

Those of you that know me (in the real world) know that I am a pretty patient guytolerant even! I’ve even been called a good listener…on occasion!

BUT “silly” statements like that are really just like…

..for me – especially with my blogging hat on!

So, what do you think I felt when I saw this?

Al’s face kinda says it all really…Actually, something like this was one of the things I heard during one of my very first “orientation programmes” when I was a younger teacher…really!

All I can say is…

…and, while we are on the subject:

Must….must fight…must fight urge…to RANT!

The GOOD NEWS is…that there are more of us out there than you would imagine…more of us that see the value of the Jedi Path…in education.

OK, maybe not “those” guys…but educators that say:

And, then…


…while watching “When Harry Met Sally“!

If you like these ideas…you’re on the right corner of the blogosphere!

your googling has probably highlighted the fact that while there are lots of bloggers out there that dig the sexy phrase we are looking at in this mini-series, there are not many thunks on “how” to “do” it – on how we UNCOVER our CURRICULUM!

This is what we’ll be doing in Pt 03 and Pt 04

See you later!

What does it mean to “UNcover” a CURRICULUM? (Pt 01)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum on 30/09/2012 at 2:40 pm

OK – here’s a quick task (yes, I know it’s a Sunday…and you’re already thunking about tomorrow’s lessons and the “new” textbook that you ain’t been able to review properly – but indulge me)…


Place the word “curriculum” (or “curricular”) in the centre of your mind’s eye…and, think about all the synonyms that spring to mind.

Do this for about 30 seconds…

Now, think about all the other words that collocate with this amazing word

…again, give yourself 30 seconds.


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of you probably thunked of around 50% of the words and phrases below:

  • (core) standards
  • assessment
  • content
  • course
  • course outline
  • coversheet
  • deliver
  • exam (or test)
  • information
  • instruction
  • knowledge
  • lecture
  • lesson
  • materials
  • pacing document
  • plan
  • programme (or program)
  • schedule
  • subject (or discipline)
  • syllabus
  • textbook
  • unit (or module)

…and that less than 50% of you came up with this little bunch:

  • belonging (or community)
  • challenge
  • choice (or opportunity)
  • collaboration
  • engagement
  • LEARNacy
  • motivation
  • ownership (or freedom)
  • real LEARNing
  • student success
  • uncover the curriculum

Am I right or am I right?


Now, either I’m really smart…or just super good at Jedi Mind tricks!

Perhaps neither (ask my wife about that first one)! Maybe, we have all been seduced by the Dark Side – seduced into believing that a curriculum CAN, in fact, be delivered…just like a bloody newspaper!

And, it ain’t only Luke that has his hands tied!


Those of you that know the blog, will have picked up that I use that last phrase (from the second list) quite a lot – hell, I’ve taken the time to evolve a few of my graphics (even when the Olympics were on the telly)!


I’ve done a lot of posts that discuss how we, as teachers, need to explore our own beliefs and underlying assumptions about what curriculum really is…and should be! I’ve even committed serious acts of serial curriculum bloggery; writing, producing and directing whole mini-series on the perils of “pacing guidelines” – and how bad they are for our healthand the LEARNing of our students!


And…yes…I know you hate it when I use pictures of brains! Sorry…


However, whenever I chat to people about these things (and me stuff on the blog) – the one thing that sticks in their minds (apart from the Flash and his interview with Superman) is that phrase: 

I get it…it is a “sexy” phrase…the perfect wordbite!


The thing I haven’t really done is…UNcover the nature of the wordbite itself!

Mmmm, do this we will…in this mini series!


…I’m gonna make you “work” a bit – and by that I mean:

Homework Zamanı!


Before next time, google the phrase “UNcover the curriculum / syllabus” – and answer these with a “pal”:


Then, tackle this one:

…and talk about it with your “buddy”!


Next, and on your own this time – chew on these two for a while:

…and then, have a coffee (or çay) to compare notes – without cookies!


See you soon!

Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 03)

In Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities on 23/07/2012 at 7:36 pm

I was so happy that Part 02 of this little mini-series allowed me to get to the “rant” I had originally planned off my chest – as well as touch on some of the more serious issues that relate to pacing guides as a “curriculum tool”.

In yesterday’s post, we highlighted many of the problems and challenges created by pacing processes in schools and colleges – and I noted that we cannot really “pace” our way out of these problems – we have to questionact and thunk ourselves out of them!


The thing was that I wrapped up the post by saying that we might need to clarify what exactly we mean when we talk about the “rocks” and the “hard places” created by curriculum / pacing guides – and also “Who gets stuck?” between them.

This little image “captures” the one we looked at yesterday…

…the “pacing” dilemma that many “subject” or discipline teachers face.

As I mentioned, many of these maths, biology and social science teachers often feel that they “get stuck” between these two “choices” – the only two choices many of them feel their curriculum and pacing guides offer them. Getting stuck between a “rock” and a (very) “hard place” in this way is never a good feeling – it stresses us out, impacts our levels of self-efficacy and generally takes the “fun” outta TEACHing…


I also noted that while so-called ELT and ELL “experts” were aware of all the problems related to pacing systems and guides, they still decided to “import” them into the world of language learning and teaching.

The thing is, to date, we only have blog postings like Dave’s “The Song Remains The Sameto tell us how ELT teachers might be feeling about these – and we know how anecdotal and unreliable those bloody bloggers can be.

So, and because I liked the idea of the “image” above – I decided to run a little research project to see what these teachers thought. I asked a few teachers (all the ones I knew that had not gone on holiday) to take a read of Part 01 and Part 02 – and use the same kind of image to “summarise” what they thought I was saying and how that related to the “rocks” and the “hard places” they had experienced.

Yes, I knownot very “scientific”not entirely “best practice” in terms of “research practice”…but I wanted to try and get at some “gut reactions” that illustrated the feelings ELL teachers have about “pacing guides”. Besides, you know you have to take everything I say with a pitch of salt – I is a bloody blogger, too!

Besides…what came out of it was really interesting. 


These four responses (“read” them clockwise) were pretty typical of what my pals noted:

Now, remember…I asked these teachers to summarise what I was banging on about in the two posts! Funny how people “HEAR” some very different stuff to that which we “SAY” (or even “LEARN” stuff that we did not “TEACH”)!


OK – so take a look at all four of them (and the opening graphic, too). What is the one common element that “shines” on through all of them? Did you see it? Also, and this is a bit “tougher”, think back over the two posts – What things didn’t I mention that are highlighted by the teachers themselves?

Hey, nobody said this blog was an easy read!


I thought it was interesting that all the teachers focussed on “ME” (not “me”, as in Tony, but “ME” as in “the teacher”) – they clearly see the core pressure of pacing guides from their “own perspective”. This is pretty normal – they are the ones that have to interpret these guides, come up with ways to breathe life into them – and take them into the classroom. They are, sadly, also the ones who get “cracked over the head” when too many students “fail” – or worse, when the school drops a rung or two on the “stats” – or league tables we so-oft fabricate!


Now, I did not specifically mention tests as such in the posts – so it was surprising to see that 3 out of 4 highlighted them as a “pressure factor” (and perhaps, more interestingly, did not use the term “assessment”). But, I’m thunking that this means some teachers see a very clear link between assessment and curriculum (and pacing guides)! Mmmm – think about that more shall I!


OK – I did mention textbooks…so no surprise that half of them note this…what did strike me (in the last one) is that textbooks and tests were “combined” as a “double threat”. I didn’t worry about that one too much – because that 4th image also had something a wee bit unexpected, too…and something that was pretty common in many of the responses to my little “survey”!


If we look closely (and as I suggested in Part 02), we do also see something else starting to “creep” into some of the feedback from my respondents…

Hey, I only admitted to fleetingly considering a bit of “finger-pointing” – I did not actually “do” it!


In the second “teacher” image, “administrators” get the finger – and so they should (that’s what they get the “big bucks” for). We could, perhaps, substitute this word for other phrases – “curriculum unit” or “curriculum and testing team”. But, the point is clear – my teachers often “blame” others for the pressure they face with curriculum and pacing guides (and, perhaps do not like the lack of control they seem to have)!

I wish I had also asked a few administrators (or curriculum teams) about their “rocks” and “hard places”. I’ve often felt that pacing guides are sometimes used because administrators (believe it or not) also want to try and do the “best” for students – but, sadly, do not “trust” their teachers (or their knowledge and skills) enough. Me thinks they often get it wrong here (“under-trusting” teachers and “over-trusting” curriculum systems – and totally missing the point vis-a-vis teacher “involvement” and “engagement” in allthingscurriculum) – but that’s for another post, perhaps!


What is really interesting, however, is found in the last one. Teachers, or more accurately – my teacher pals, also blame students for a lot of the “pressure”. In the last image, textbooks and tests are seen as the “rock” – while students are looked upon as the (very) “hard place”. This really intrigued me – so, I had to ask!

The answer was that it is frequently the LEARNers themselves that ask “Is this on the test?” – it is the LEARNers that do not always want to do the types of projects and cognitive “heavy-lifting” that teachers know can help them get results. LEARNers, I was told, also see ELL as a “subject” and place a premium on easily-digestable “practice activities” that (they believe) will help them “pass the test”.

Basically, many LEARNers (especially those in the Turkish “hazırlık” or “university prep” schools)…want an easy ride – and, if they have to make a choice between “real LEARNing” and “passing the TEST”, it ain’t really a choice at all! Now, this is probably not true of every student studying at a prep school here – but it does show a preference for something we introduced in Part 01:

And…you know what, just to make matters worse…they “know” they also get a “vote” when time comes round for those lovely “student evaluations of teaching”…

The little buggarsas bad as those “evil” administrators and “damn” curriculum and testing units!


OK – my little “experiment” was fun!

I had gleaned a better idea of what ELT people felt “the rocks” and “the hard places” were all about. But, this “feedback” left me feeling a bit like….well, you can see the picture!

I got to thunking… I could really understand the things that these teachers were feeling. What I could still not get me head around was how some teachers had “chosen” (if Dave was right – in his post) to respond to these pressures by: 

  • Keeping on racing through their textbooks…without exploring their themes or relating them to students’ lives
  • Revertingto traditional forms of teacher-centered “spoon-feeding” and “grammer practice activities”
  • Dropping “topics” (“speaking” comes to mind) because they are not on the “tests”

Again, these “choices” are typical of another phenomenon we also introduced in Part 01:

The problem is that “great teachers” – no, all of us – know these things just do not work, don’t we?


Now, I know I didn’t ask any students (perhaps I should) to do the same little “research exercise” – but it would seem (from what the teachers are saying) that their “rock” and their (very) “hard place” would look a little something like this:

And, as is the case with teachers – students also look at problems created by pacing guides from their “own perspective”. They see themselves as the ones who are getting “squeezed” or “stuck”. I get that many students do not think much about “curriculum” (and wouldn’t know a pacing guide if it hit them on the nose). For many of them “assessment” is “the curriculum” and the teachers role is to deliver that curriculum (as they define it). Assessment, or the “tests”, becomes the “currency” of the curriculum. Ergo, the teacher represent a “rock” or a “hard place” – especially, if they are using a different “currency” to begin with…

This complicates things!


If my teachers (and my research methods and “sample size”) were right – you can be judge of that – we might want to ask a couple of questions.

  • How had students “LEARNed” this stuff – these attitudes? 
  • What happened to them?

Most of us already know the answers to these questions – SCHOOL happened to all of them…CURRICULUM happened to all of them…ASSESSMENT happened to all of them – so they must have also LEARNed this stuff from “us”…their TEACHERS.



So, what we end up with is a pretty dire situation.

“Rocks” and “hard places” all over the bloody show! Everyone feeling as if they are the ones who “get stuck” or “squeezed”. Everyone blaming everyone else for what’s going on.

More importantly, if teachers and their learners are BOTH making the types of “choices” we see here, doesn’t that show us that they are truely missing the point

LEARNing, especially Language LEARNing, is not something that can be “packaged up” and “paced” into LEARNers – is not “ekmek” and cannot be delivered along with the morning newspaper by a cheerful “kapıcı” (yes, and Google Translate is still as dumb as ever)!

Could it be that SCHOOL, CURRICULUM and ASSESSMENT (or a “specific version” of all three) had also “happened” to teachers – at least here in canım Türkiye?

I need a Part 04, don’t I?

Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 02)

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities on 23/07/2012 at 2:44 am

When I started that last post (or rather the first “episode” of the new “mini-soap”), the plan was to havea good ole rant” – however, as is often the case with many blog posts, things didn’t quite go to plan…


The rant was going to start with something like this:

…and, yes – I was planning to indulge my love of comic books and superheroesThat would cheer me up and, I hoped, using a few new characters would help shake off the “blogging funk” I have been feeling these past few weeks)!


Now, a rant may be just a rant – but as I was banging away at the keyboard, watching the thingy “evolve” (it got to 3,500+ words at one point – and I was nowhere near “finished”) as I deleted / chopped / added away – I found the post was becoming more “serious” than I had initially wanted it to be!

The main problem was that I found myself experiencing feelings of real “sadness” (rather than “mock anger” – the feeling that usually accompanies a rant)!

I tried to keep things more positive with the little diatribe on what makes schools “great”:



But when I got to curriculum and assessment, I guess I kinda got overwhelmed with disappointment or frustration.

“Why can’t we LEARN?”“Why can’t we get it RIGHT?” I kept saying to myself! I got annoyed that a lot of the bloggery I have done over the months had (clearly) gone to waste – nobody was listening! Nothing had improved

I also found myself asking “Whose FAULT is it?” – as I recalled the things I had read myself and snippets of conversation I had had with those in schools and colleges around Turkey this year. Had the culture of “finger-pointing” and playing “the blame-game” finally got to me, too? This is how I felt – despite the fact that I “know” this is as dangerous (and dumb) a question as we can ever ask!


I mean, come on – it was only “curriculum”!

Those of you that know the blog will know that I have visited and revisited the issues related to curriculum many times – even tackled the “Mother of All Curriculum Myths“! It was in that post that I had come to the conclusion that it is what we “do” in our schools and colleges that largely conditions how we approach the whole idea of improvement and teacher development – and that what we “do” in the area of curriculum is, perhaps, the real “rock” (or “hard place”) that gets in the way of student LEARNing and success

Pacing, far from just being my favourite whipping boy these days, just seemed to embody everything that we are doing wrong!

Maybe, I need to go back to the “rant” to give a bit of context!


It seems that whenever I meet a bunch of teachers and ask them about some of the biggest challenges they face…I am told many of them feel a little like this:

Of course, these teachers frequently “blame” the curriculum or syllabus documentation that seem to be “handed down from high” – from God, perhaps?

What I find, however, is that many institutions still do not have a “curriculum” (as I might define it – we’ll come back to this, promise). But, they almost always have textbooks – and just as many have “pacing guides” (or spreadsheets) that tell teachers what to teach, when and how to teach it and how “fast” to “get through” everything (all too often so students do not “fall behind” and…God forbid…”fail the test”)!

All too often, it’s almost impossible to distinguish these pacing tools from the textbooks they are frequently built around – and teachers inevitably find themselves just rushing from page to page just ensure they deliver as much as they can and cover as much “content” as is humanly possible…

Sound familiar?


By the way, and in case I forgot to mention it, this rant was primarily directed at how we “do” ELT (English Language Teaching) or, as I prefer, ELL (English Language Learning) here in canim Türkiyem! But, something also tells me these challenges are not limited to language learning and teaching or Turkish LEARNers

Now, you might think that a discussion of pacing in ELL is a bit dumb! We all get that it could make sense in a “content-based discipline” (whatever that may mean) but we all know that the English language does not have any “real content”, don’t weIn a recent ELTChat, @theteacherjames pointed out that “ELT is the subject without a subject” – makes sense! I am guessing that I am not the only person that always thought that we could use any content we wanted to help LEARNers “do” more with what they learned about the language – and, inşallah, “be” more!

But, we’ll come back to this in a bit…


As I said, I’m talking here about ELL departments/schools and their programmes. But, these pacing guides or tools have been around other subject areas or disciplines – like biology, social studies and mathematics – for years. They have become a staple of a teacher’s day-to-day life in these areas – and a lifting of the “high-stakes bar” across education in recent years (around the globe) means they are increasing used to help keep teachers “on track” and “on schedule” (often in terms of days, class periods and even minutes) towards the benchmark or national tests to which they are frequently tied.

The rock and the hard place that these “subject teachers” find themselves squeezed between is really about a “choice” – a choice between “going faster” (and sacrificing deeper LEARNing) and “slowing down” (and sacrificing content coverage). Bit of a Catch-22 really – as both of these choices could mean harming student success on the “tests” (or worse – their school’s ranking)!

Sound familiar?


The thing is that in nearly all of these other subject areas, the research clearly demonstrates that these innocently named “pacing processes”:

  • Encourage teachers to focus on traditional forms of “teacher-centered instruction”
  • Result in teachers doing less “cognitively demanding” work in their classrooms and fewer “long-term projects” with their students
  • Lead to “topics” that are not tested being “dropped”
  • Promote the increased “packaging” and “fragmentation” of curriculum knowledge into “test-related practice” activities
  • Force teachers to make “curricular adaptations” that reduce the overall effectiveness of programmes

Sound familiar?


Knowing all this (because we always do our “research” and due diligence before making decisions that will affect our LEARNers and teachers)…some ELT “genius” (no doubt also working on a “sponsored” textbook project) decided that we needed to “import” the idea of pacing into ELL:

…and everybody swallowed it – hook, line and sinker! For a while…


Pacing dilemmas, in the Turkish ELL context, were highlighted recently by Dave Dodgson in a post that captured the feelings of many teachers here in canım Türkiyem – The Song Remains The Same. Dave was lamenting the possible “future misfire” that many schools appear to be facing with their adoption of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) – the new “darling” of many a school (and publishing house) here in Turkey these days.

His title speaks for itself. But, Dave also notes that many institutions are still enforcing “standardised approaches” and “restrictive policies” that are designed to maximise “coverage of textbook material” (and delivery of so-called “content”) – approaches and policies, he tells us, that mean:

…the problems we face now of (some) students being unable to speak beyond short broken sentences or switching off because there’s just too much being covered too quickly will continue. Teaching to the test will be more rife than ever. Most lessons, whether we like it or not, will be teacher-centred.

Not exactly what Marsch and Langé (2000) had in mind when they talked about the potential of CLIL to help students use language to learn (stuff) and learn (stuff) to use languages! And, regardless of the methods and approaches used by a teacher (or school) – not exactly the climate that nurtures student LEARNing and success!


What did Einstein say about “insanity”, again?


What really takes the biscuit, however, is not these dumb-ass ideas per se – it’s that we keep on with them while all the time knowing that students are not doing much “real LEARNing”. Many LEARNers still fail the “tests” we give them…and even when they do “pass”…well, let’s just say the cartoon above has more than a grain of truth in it…

We cannot “pace” our way out of these problems – we have to question, act and thunk ourselves out of them! Pacing guides and tools, in a nutshell, do not answer the critical question I asked in the first post – What are we here to do for the LEARNers? – and they do not do this because the thunking behind them is “flawed”.


As I hinted earlier, it’s easy for us to “pass the buck” and “play the blame game” with these challenges – perhaps, it would help if we changed a couple of the questions we ask:

…but, that’s for Part 03!