Saturday, October 26, 2019

I'm on Study Leave! (Sticky Post)

Hi friends! Just a quick post to let everyone know that I'm currently on a one-year study leave to pursue my postgraduate study - MPhil in Education (Research in Second Language Education) - at University of Cambridge. I truly apologise for all the unanswered e-mails and messages in my Beyond Chalk & Talk FB inbox. A lot of things are happening at the same time - and I'm still trying to find my feet. Not an acceptable excuse to ignore you all, I know. I sincerely apologise from the bottom of my heart,  and I promise I'll try my very best to make up for that in every way I can.

There are requests and inquiries about new books and modules - I'm sorry I won't be able to do all those at the moment. But feel free to check out my latest book in the Genius DSKP series published by Penerbit Ilmu Bakti here. I have posted a few worksheets and materials on my Facebook page, you can check them out here. You might want to check out my Instagram page, too.  :)  That's all I can offer for now. I'll try to post updates from time to time whenever I have the chance.

I also received a couple of requests for teachers training / workshop. Believe me, I really really wish I can do that. But at the moment I would need to postpone all such activities for very obvious reasons. I promise I'll get in touch with everyone as soon as I finish my studies. We'll plan something, you have my words for that. :)

If everything goes well, I should be back in Malaysia around August or September next year. Thank you so much for your continuous support. Please pray for me, and do keep in touch!

Take care, -ccj

St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Measurement versus Mobilisation? : Exploring Ways to Understand Teacher Knowledge


I have been sharing my thoughts and reflections on this topic on three blog posts so far :D And I think it's getting clearer to me where these whole things are heading. If you're interested, you can check out my previous posts:


In the first post, I tried to explore the concept of narrative inquiry and discuss briefly the 'tensions' between narrative thinking and the traditional, so-called more 'scientific-grounded' 'grand narrative.' In the second post, I went deeper into what narrative inquiry is about and tried to see if we can explore the potential for it to be a tool for self-reflective, self-determined professional development for teachers. The third post might seem a bit off-tangent, but it's still related. I shared my passion on teacher knowledge and technology integration, and suggested narrative inquiry as a possible alternative approach to analyse the development of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) of teachers. 

What I'm hoping to do in this post is to gather my thoughts in a more organised manner - to explore the reasons why I believe narrative inquiry is the way to go when discussing teacher knowledge and teacher professional development in general - and specifically technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK). I'm revisiting the 'tensions' described by Clandinin & Connelly (2000) and will try to contextualise them within the scope of teacher knowledge, teacher professional development and of course, TPACK.

Exploring the Value of Experiences

While discussing the conceptualisation of the TPACK framework for application in teacher professional development, Mishra & Koehler (2006) drew on Dewey’s philosophy on experience and stated that “every experience should prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper, more expansive quality” (p. 1040). Though not explicitly addressed in the paper, Mishra & Koehler’s reference to experience implied a focus on the development (rather than the numerical measurement) of teacher knowledge.

In discussing narrative as a strategy of inquiry in research, Clandinin & Connelly (2000) also drew on John Dewey in addition to Mark Johnson and Alasdair Macintyre as their main sources of influence. As mentioned in my previous posts (see above), change is central to a narrative, and certainty is not a goal (p. 7). Hence, narrative is not a quest to find a definite answer to a question. Rather, it is a journey or an attempt to understand change and the factors that surround it.

Clandinin & Connelly described a “tension” between what they refer to as the ‘grand narrative’ and narrative inquiry. The ‘grand narrative’ is an idea of research that subscribes to Thorndike’s ideal of “observation and numerical presentation of behaviour” that has emerged as ‘the’ way in educational research (p. 22). Challenging this so-called “unquestioned way of looking at things” by proposing the alternative approach of narrative inquiry (p. 22), Clandinin & Connelly were faced with oppositions that they described as follows: “We thought they were slightly intransigent and unwilling to change, whereas they, with the weight of opinion on their side, probably saw us as esoteric and unwilling to compromise” (p. 29).

The 'Tensions'

In the context of teacher professional development, I would argue that the narrative inquiry strategy is a more pertinent approach than the ‘grand narrative’. I will discuss the impetus for adopting narrative inquiry over the ‘grand narrative’ by analysing the five ‘tensions’ listed by Clandinin & Connelly (2000), i.e. temporality, people, action, certainty and context.

Temporality

When discussing temporality, narrative thinking looks at an event as having a past, a present and an implied future (p. 29). Applying this to the context of a teacher’s professional development, we know that the teacher’s experience does not start and stop at the training session. The teacher brings with her a past experience that shapes how she conceptualises the knowledge she learns at the present training, and her plans for transferring the knowledge she has acquired into practice after the training is over, i.e. in the future. In their earlier work, Clandinin & Connelly encapsulated this time-bound nature through their notion of “personal practical knowledge”, i.e. a particular way for a teacher to reconstruct “the past and the intentions of the future to deal with the exigencies of a present situation” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988, p. 25).

The ‘grand narrative’, on the other hand, characterises events and things “in and of themselves”, and appear to have a “timeless sense about them” (p. 30). This is the assumption mainly adopted by approaches that seek to measure whether a teacher’s knowledge has reached a certain ‘level’ or ‘standard’ as a result of a training session. This is problematic, because as discussed in my previous posts, teacher knowledge is not static or stagnant. It is personal, practical, tacit, systematic, and dynamic (Borg, 2015). Therefore, my contention is that examining teacher knowledge should require an approach that is not impersonal, rigid or devoid of context.

People

People are central to narrative inquiry. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) emphasised that “people, at any point in time, are in a process of personal change” (p. 30). Narrative thinking takes into account the histories and experiences of people. In the context of research on teacher professional development, a narrative inquirer is interested in “understanding teachers as knowers: knowers of themselves, of their situations, of children, of subject matter, of teaching, of learning” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1999, p. 1). This strikes a resonance with the underlying principles of the TPACK framework, which seeks to understand the interplay among the three components of technology, subject matter and pedagogy as well as the affordances and constraints that they represent.

The ‘grand narrative’s’ focus on scientific observation and numerical measurements makes it an “essentially people-free notion” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 30). Inquiries on teacher professional development that adopted this approach would be more interested in measuring the effectiveness of a training programme without taking into account the personal experiences of the teachers involved. Narrative histories and personal experiences would be seen as irrelevant or merely anecdotal. This view goes against the notion of teachers as holders of knowledge. For me, it seems to be taking the most important variable out of the equation.

Action

In narrative inquiry, action is understood as a “narrative sign” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 30). Any action should be interpreted as expressions of narrative histories (p. 31). Interpretations of narrative histories give significant meaning to an action. In the context of research on teacher professional development, a narrative inquirer would interpret a teacher’s practice, either inside or outside the classroom, in relation to his personal histories and contextual experiences. Every single action and decision would be traced back to the teacher’s context as well as past and present experiences.

The ‘grand narrative’ perspective will treat an action as a direct evidence of something. For example, performance is a direct evidence of cognitive level. In the context of teacher professional development, this would mean interpreting teacher’s practices in the classroom as either a sign of competence or incompetence, or as evidence of the levels of skills in certain pedagogical approaches. This would often be measured using instruments consisting of checklists or description of standards. Although quite a common practice in many research on teacher professional development (e.g. Rohaan, Taconis & Jochem, 2012; KΓΆnig & Pflanzl, 2016; Lin & Rowland, 2016), I would like to propose a more personalised way of examining teacher knowledge. Analysing teacher knowledge and learning experiences in this manner reduces teachers to “merely a filtering variable or a factor to be considered as either an impediment or a catalyst for the achievement of objectives” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 28). There are contextually-bound and historically-driven reasons for every action taken by teachers as professionals in the classroom, and I propose that we take these reasons into considerations when analysing the development of teacher knowledge through professional development activities.

There are contextually-bound and historically-driven reasons for every action taken by teachers as professionals in the classroom, and I propose that we take these reasons into considerations when analysing the development of teacher knowledge through professional development activities

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Teacher Knowledge & Technology Integration: Measuring the Immeasurable?


The more you know, the more you know you don't know. ~Aristotle


13 years ago, I was a newly-minted ESL teacher in a beautiful primary school by the sea in Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia. I was young, enthusiastic and eager - but I was also naive, clueless and inexperienced. I couldn't wait to apply everything that I learned from my years of education at the teachers' training college in my classroom. I wanted to teach, I wanted to touch hearts, I wanted to change my students' lives.

One of the areas that I'm super passionate about is technology integration in the language classroom. I'm not much of a tech-geek, but I do love experimenting with different types of tools and softwares to enhance pupils' engagement and increase their motivations to learn. But it was hard. Harder than I thought.

Looking back, I think I managed to apply only a fraction of what I learned about technology integration and language learning from my pre-service training. My teacher education was of course useful; it provided the foundation that I needed to start off properly. But as an in-service teacher, I had to continue developing my craft by un-learning and re-learning a lot of things. I attended lots of teacher trainings, seminars, and conferences on educational technology. I learned from books, from the Internet, and from conversations with my colleagues. But most of all, I learned from experiences - through countless experiments, trials and errors, success and failures, fixes and mistakes.

Throughout the years, I have formed my own belief system, my own principles, my own epistemology about educational technology and language pedagogy. I have developed my teacher knowledge on the subject. And this knowledge is not static. It is dynamic and ever-changing. My knowledge grows and evolves as I learn more things, and as I move from one school to another, from one context to another.

But throughout the years, I have given very little thought on how all the knowledge that I acquired through the many professional development activities and self-directed learning that I engaged in were mobilised and transferred to my professional practice in the classroom. How can I best describe the construction of my teacher knowledge? What happened in the transition process, between the learning and the actual practice? Would understanding of the affordances and constraints of technology use in language teaching help me learn how I learn as a teacher, and thus inform me about the types of professional development best suited for me?

I believe this is an area worthy of further reflections and explorations.

Learning to Know, Knowing to Learn

Teacher knowledge is a research area under the overarching field of teacher cognition. Borg (2003, 2005, 2015) defined teacher cognition as teachers thinking, knowledge and beliefs; and how they are related to practices in the classroom. The impetus for research on teacher cognition is the notion that teachers play an important role in determining what is going on in the classroom as active and thinking decision-makers (Borg, 2015). Borg also asserted that understanding of teacher cognition is central to the process of understanding teaching.

The term 'teacher knowledge' emerged in the 1980's, especially through the seminal work of Shulman (1986) on pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Shulman described PCK as "the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organised, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instructions" (p. 8). According to Borg, Shulman's PCK had the largest impact on scholarships and research on teacher cognition, displacing the term 'teacher thinking' and remains the dominant concept today.

Teacher Knowledge and Technology Integration

One of the most recent contributions to the field of teacher knowledge is Mishra & Koehler’s (2006) technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) framework, which was referred to as a “model of technology integration in teaching and learning” (p. 1029). The TPACK framework incorporates a technological knowledge domain into Shulman’s (1986) concept of PCK. It describes the interplay among knowledge of pedagogy, content and knowledge as crucial for meaningful technology integration in the classroom.

Mishra & Koehler argued that technology, pedagogy, and content “exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium” and that productive technology integration needs to consider the three domains “not in isolation, but rather within the complex relationships in the system” (p. 1029). They proposed the adoption of the TPACK framework in restructuring professional development to help teachers develop “nuanced understandings” of the dynamic equilibrium among technology, pedagogy and content which is essential for meaningful technology integration in the classroom (p. 1030).

According to Mishra & Koehler, the traditional methods of training for technology integration such as workshops and courses are no longer pertinent in helping teachers become “intelligent users of technology for pedagogy” (p. 1032). They listed factors such as “the rapid rate of technology change,” “inappropriate design of software,” “the situated nature of learning” and “an emphasis on what, not how” as the reasons why “competencies and checklists of things that teachers need to know is inherently problematic,” and therefore should no longer be applied in technology integration training for teachers (pp. 1032-1033). Mishra & Koehler advocated the ‘learning-technology-by-design’ approach which adopts the TPACK framework in technology integration professional development for teachers. This approach enables teachers to be engaged in “authentic design activities around education technology” which “compelled them to seriously study the complex relationships between technology and education” (p. 1038).


Technology, pedagogy and content exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium (Mishra & Koehler, 2006)


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Narrative Inquiry as a Tool for Teacher Professional Development: "How do we get here?"

This post is a continuation of my previous post where I shared some of my initial thoughts on narrative inquiry as a tool for teacher professional development.

In the previous post, I summarised the 'tensions' between narrative thinking and the 'grand narrative', as described by Clandinin & Connelly (2000), and offered my views on how most evaluations of teacher professional development seem to subscribe more to the 'grand narrative' ideal. It seems to me that all these whiles, we've been concerned too much about the direct outcomes of a training model. The questions that we're more inclined to ask is: does it work? Why? What can we do to improve? And with this, we bring onto the table the idea of causality, i.e. X is a result of Y - which has an "ensuing certainty" to it, as described by Clandinin & Connelly. (Note: I acknowledge the need for me to widen my reading on the area of evaluations of teacher professional development programmes so I can affirm this with more confidence (haha). But for now, I'll just share my thoughts based on what I've read so far, and largely on my own personal experience as a teacher and teacher trainer).

This is of course fine, but my contention is that a teacher's learning development should be evaluated in a more tentative manner. The idea that underlies the concept of personalisation, differentiation and customisation which are strongly advocated by many proponents of transformative model of professional development for teachers (e.g. Gerstein, Kennedy, Borko & Putnam among others) stem from the concept of contextualisation. In teacher's learning - or any learning for that matter - context is most essential (Borko, 2004).

I would propose that we do away with causality and correlation. Instead of focusing on "what is the outcome?", I propose we shift our attention to "how do we get here?"

So, how do we get here? 

Clandinin & Connelly's (2000) thinking about narrative inquiry is associated with John Dewey's theory of experience. They came up with a metaphorical 'three-dimensional narrative inquiry space', which encapsulates the terms personal and social (interactions); past, present and future (continuity / temporal); and place (situation). In Clandinin & Connelly's words: "studies have temporal dimensions and address temporal matters; they focus on the personal and the social balance appropriate to the inquiry; and they occur in specific places or sequences of places" (p. 50).

In addition to the three-dimensional narrative inquiry space, Clandinin & Connelly also referred to their earlier work (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994) where they proposed four directions of inquiry: inward and outward; backward and forward. 'Inward' refers to "internal conditions", such as "feelings, hopes, aesthetic reactions, and moral dispositions", while 'outward' refers to "existential conditions, that is the environment" (p. 50). 'Backward' and 'forward' refer to the idea of temporality, i.e. past, present and future.

Using this inquiry space framework, an inquirer can capture the essence of her experiences in order to make sense of it. How does it look like in practice? One embarking on a narrative inquiry journey would ask questions, collect field notes, derive interpretations, and write a text that addresses both personal and social issues. This would be done by looking inward and outward, and by referring not only to the current event but also by thinking about the past and the future (p. 50).

Clandinin & Connelly's (2000) work concerned with narrative inquiry as a research tool, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I see lots of value in this line of thinking with regard to teacher professional development. I believe that 'inquiry' is a valuable tool for continuous professional development - and for the past few years, there are many methods of inquiries being proposed as innovative and transformative models of continuous professional development for teachers. For example, there have been active movements to engage teachers and practitioners in action research, exploratory practice and exploratory action research, just to name a few. All of these movements have  at their core the elements of continuous reflections, and of one constantly inquiring about and pondering upon one's professional practice. Besides, professional development as inquiry into practice is not a new idea. It can be traced back to as early as John Dewey's works in 1910 and 1933 (Crockett, 2002).

I believe in the potential of narrative inquiry which adopts Clandinin & Connelly's three-dimensional narrative inquiry space as another tool that can be used by teachers who are interested in embarking upon a journey of inquiry to develop themselves professionally.

But how does it really look like in practice? 

Johnson & Golombek's (2002) compilation of teachers' narrative inquiries published by Cambridge University Press provides excellent examples of how narrative inquiry can be adopted as a way for teachers to reflect upon their professional practices. Johnson & Golombek posited that "In order to make an experience educative, teachers need to approach narrative inquiry not as a set of prescriptive skills or task to be carried out but rather as a mind-set" (p. 5). This mind-set is defined by Johnson & Golombek as "a set of attitudes", referring to Dewey's (1933) notions of open-mindedness (seeking alternatives), responsibility (recognising consequences) and whole-heartedness (continual self-examination). Johnson & Golombek argued that when teachers use this mind-set in their inquiries, they will be able to "question their own assumptions as they uncover who they are, where they have come from, what their students know, and what their students need to know" (p. 5).

From 2011 to 2013, I was involved in a project called the English Language Teacher Development Project (ELTDP) conducted by the British Council in collaboration with the Malaysia Ministry of Education. It was a two-year teacher-mentoring project where "mentors were assigned to teachers not as trainers but as experienced professionals who could work with teachers in schools and support them in implementing, via reflective practice, changes in their teaching" (Borg, 2013, p. 2). Towards the end of the project, a three-volume publication called the Narratives of Teacher Development was published, which captured the essence of the professional development experiences of the teachers involved. The publication, as Borg described in the introduction, "provide insights into the range of impacts the project has achieved" (p. 2). I believe this is one good example of how providers of teacher development employs teachers' narrative accounts as a way of evaluating the impacts of the training provided.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Narrative Inquiry as a Tool for Teacher Professional Development: Initial Thoughts

I'm halfway through 'Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research' by D. Jean Clandinin and F. Michael Connelly (2000). I was directed to this book by studies adopting narrative inquiry as a strategy of inquiry for their research designs. In this book, Clandinin & Connelly explained the journey that has led them to pioneer 'narrative inquiry' as an inquiry strategy. They explained that  their excitement and interest in narrative has its origin in their interest in experience (Prologue, p. xxvi).

Borg (2015), while reviewing Clandinin & Connelly's works from 1986 to 1997, mentioned that they are both leading figures in the study of teacher knowledge, particularly in the "distinct orientation" of "practical knowledge." Though not explicitly addressed in this book, I believe that narrative inquiry is rooted in Clandinin & Connelly's studies on teachers' practical knowledge. This book focuses on narrative inquiry as a research approach, yet what I'm drawn to is its potential as a tool for self-reflective professional development for teachers. In this post, I'm sharing some of my initial thoughts on how this potential can possibly be explored.

Teacher professional development: Change is a clear sign that learning is taking place.


Why Narrative?

That's the title of the book's Chapter 1, which addresses the reasons for using narratives in research. Clandinin & Connelly drew examples from the fields of anthropology, psychiatry and organisational science and cited some of the leading figures in those fields, such as John Dewey, Mark Johnson, and Alasdair Macintyre. They also provided examples of how narratives were used by researchers such as Clifford Geertz (anthropology), Mary Catherine Bateson (anthropology), Barbara Czarniawska (organisational research), Robert Coles (psychiatry), and Donald Polkinghorne (human sciences). According to Clandinin & Connelly, narrative is defined as "a way of understanding experience" (p. 20). Narrative is essential in research about human because human experiences are narrative in nature.

There are some interesting points highlighted in Chapter 1. Clandinin & Connelly made it clear that different disciplines have different ways of interpreting the relationship between the inquirer / researcher and the participant/s. Despite the many differences, what every field has in common with one another with regard to narrative is this: that change is central to a narrative, and certainty is not a goal (p. 9). Hence, narrative inquiry is not a quest to find a definite answer, but rather an attempt at understanding change. Clandinin & Connelly pointed to an example in psychiatry given by Robert Coles where narrative is not the outcome of change but the origin of it (p. 12).

Why is change so important in narrative? It's because change is what leads to continuity. Narrative inquiry is interested not just in what's happening at the present moment, but also in the past and most importantly, in the future. Clandinin & Connelly asserted that continuity results because people improvise and adapt, i.e. they learn (p. 7). In other words, change is a clear sign that learning is taking place.


Making Sense of Experience

Narrative inquiry is making sense of experience. It's all about personal experiences and individual contexts. I think this strikes a resonance with sociocultural theory, i.e. drawing inspirations from social contexts to mediate learning. Before I discuss the possible applications of narrative inquiry in teacher professional development, let's look at some of the tensions between narrative inquiry and the 'grand narrative' as demonstrated by Clandinin & Connelly in Chapter 2 of the book.

The 'grand narrative' refers to Thorndike's "measurement-oriented" idea of "a science of education based on observation and numerical representation of behaviour" (p. 22). Clandinin & Connelly remarked on how this idea has become 'the' way in educational research, i.e. "an unquestioned way of looking at things" (p. 22). When they proposed an alternative way of looking at things through narrative inquiry, Clandinin & Connelly's contentions were met with responses that seemed to devalue the essence of meaning-making through experience. The following described this 'tension' between Clandinin & Connelly and those who subscribe so strongly to the idea of the 'grand narrative':

We thought they were slightly intransigent and unwilling to change, whereas they, with the weight of opinion on their side, probably saw us as esoteric and unwilling to compromise. (p. 29)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Holiday Memories & Language Lessons: Part 2 (People & Culture)

Hi friends! This is Part 2 of my series of blog post on the topic Holiday Memories & Language Lessons. As I've stated in my previous post, there are three parts in this series:

Part 1: Landmarks & Historical Places
Part 2: People & Culture
Part 3: Landscapes & Sceneries

Just like my previous post, I don't intend to write a full lesson plan for the photos and videos that I'm sharing in this post. Instead, I would list down some possible activities that we can do with them. The activities can be done in a single lesson, or in a series of lessons. A lesson can focus on one skill at a time, or it can also be a mixture of different skills. By sharing this with you, I hope we can brainstorm ideas on how we can use our own collection of photos and videos in our language lessons. If you like, you can share your ideas with me in the comment box. We can make this a platform to inspire one another :)

Street Musicians

Some of us like to take photos and videos of people and the culture of the places that we visit. I know I do. This is one of my favourites:





I took the video and photo at the Market Square in Cambridge, UK. I just love watching performances by street musicians. This band is called The Trials of Cato - check them out, they're awesome.

Now how can we use these as stimuli for language lessons? These are some of my ideas:

Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary & Grammar
1. Introduce the words 'street musicians', 'performers', 'buskers'
2. Talk about the musical instruments - introduce vocabulary for different types of musical instruments
3. Adjectives - get students to use adjectives to describe the video. What do they think about the music? How do they feel when they hear the music?
4. Talk about the video. Ask pupils what they can see. How many people are there? What are they doing? How do they look? What do they feel? What objects can the students see? Get students to describe the people and objects that they see in the video.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Holiday Memories & Language Lessons: Part 1 (Landmarks & Historical Places)

Hello teachers! How's 2019 been treating you so far? I'm sure things are starting to get busy, and memories from our December holidays are gradually sinking into oblivion and fading away. But they needn't be! Have you ever thought about sharing your holiday fun experiences with your students?

I know many of my friends have been visiting some exciting places during the holidays. And I'm very sure that many of them have taken lots of pictures, maybe even some videos. I have some ideas on how we can use our holiday pictures and videos to make interesting language lesson activities. Instead of assigning the usual 'write what you did during the holidays essay' to your students, why not do something different by first sharing with the students what we did during the holidays?

The reason why I believe this would work is because I always find that students are more interested in a stimulus if they know that it comes from something personal, from 'real-life' experiences. My students love personal stories more than something that I grab from the textbook. More than that, I find that students are more excited and motivated to share their own experiences if I'm the one who start the ball rolling.

I'm sharing here some examples from my previous posts on how I 'spiced up' otherwise 'ordinary' lessons simply by using stimuli from the students' lives or my own life and surroundings:

A Trip to the Beach: Using Story Mountain to Teach Narrative Writing
Guitar versus Ukulele: Teaching Students to Express Opinions

Okay, now let's get back to this post. I've decided to make this a series of posts, that I'll divide into three parts:

Part 1: Landmarks & Historical Places
Part 2: People & Culture
Part 3: Landscapes & Sceneries

Maybe you've visited some famous landmarks or historical places during the holidays. If you've taken  some snapshots or videos of the places, you can use them to make your language lessons more interesting. In this post (Part 1), I'll share a sample lesson using a video clip and a picture of a famous landmark.

The Corpus Clock

The Corpus Clock is a famous landmark in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Here's a video that I've taken:



Here's a link to a slightly better-quality version on YouTube: Corpus Clock on YouTube

And here's a snapshot:



Here's a link to a Wikipedia article on the Corpus Clock: The Corpus Clock

Suggested lesson activities

Listening & speaking
1. Show the video and the picture and talk about it. Ask the students what they see. Ask them what they think it is. Talk about the shape, colour, appearance (e.g. old, shiny, strange etc.).
2. Introduce the word 'landmark'. Talk about the meaning of the word. Give some examples. E.g. local landmarks that students are familiar with
3. Dictation: read the Wikipedia article aloud and ask students to write what they hear (the text can be simplified for less advanced students). Variation: Dictation + gap-filling activity. Students listen to teacher reading the text and fill in the missing words. This can be followed by some vocabulary work.
4. Ask questions about the Corpus Clock based on the article.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Making 2019 the Best Year for Teachers

The new year is here! - and everyone on social media is posting reminiscence, reflections and memories of 2018 as well as hopes, resolutions and ambitions for 2019. For many Malaysian teachers, I know it's a mixture of feelings. Many are sad because the holidays has ended, but at the same time are also excited for what 2019 may bring. Staff meetings have started since last week for most schools, classrooms decorated, lesson plans prepared, yearly plans printed and bound etc etc. Regardless of what some people say, I believe with all my heart that Malaysia has some of the best teachers in the world.

Image from Global Education Census, published on New Straits Times
I'm sharing here the links to a few articles on Malaysian teachers:

Malaysian teachers among the most dedicated in the world - Cambridge Assessment International Education
Malaysian among 50 finalist for Global Teacher Prize 2018 - Malay Mail
Malaysia's 2019 Global Teacher candidate talks about learning disabilities, and his hope - Malay Mail


We don't hate the burdens

I saw some making cynical comments about the Minister's announcement on reducing the burdens of teachers. As a response, this is all I want to say: teachers NEVER want their burdens to be reduced. We actually love our burdens (yes, I'm serious).

We love all the burdens related to teaching. We love decorating our classrooms till the wee hours of the night. We find cutting coloured papers, or drawing with markers, or laminating A4 print-outs, or meddling with Adobe Photoshop to create our teaching materials therapeutic. Regardless of what we say (or how often we actually do it. Haha!), we actually love writing lesson plans (for ourselves and our classrooms, not for anyone else!). And despite our constant complaints about how our students are driving us crazy, we actually love them with all our heart and can't imagine our lives without all the craziness. Let me explain this: we are just sick of all 'burdens' related to non-teaching stuffs.

We would rather use the time when we stay up all night keying in meaningless data into a portal (that we doubt anyone would ever use for anything) to prepare our lessons. We would rather use the time we spend to 'screen' students to no end to do some actual teaching - to teach the children how to read, and write and count - not to 'diagnose' whether they can do it or not (of course they can't do it, we have no time to teach them with all those 'diagnostic' work). We would rather spend the time that we do to prepare for the school's 'big programmes' (to impress I-don't-know-who) to connect with our students, to communicate with them personally and individually, to understand them better so we can teach them better. We would rather use the time we are forced to spend on preparing 12 or 24 or 36 files to prove how efficient the management of our schools are to finish our marking, to give individual feedback to our students, to make an impact on their learning. We would rather be in the classroom all day than to use our precious time to do work just so some people can have something to brag about on Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

So let me say it again. Teachers never want their burdens to be reduced. What we want is this: for people to just let us teach. No more nonsense. We are teachers. Our job is to teach, and we'll embrace the job - burdens and all. Don't reduce our burdens. Just get out of our way and let us teach.

Well...I can rant endlessly about this, but this is not what this post is about.


Looking back

I know I haven't posted much since I joined PPD KK three years ago. Working as a District English Language Officer (DELO) has been an adventure. I remember receiving a mixture of reactions for my decision to join PPD.

From Confession of an Addict: Some thoughts about Teachers PD (Part 2)
 It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I did explain in that embarrassingly long post the justification for my actions - why I did what I did. In sum, this is what it was actually about:

From Confession of an Addict: Some thoughts about Teachers PD (Part 2)

I did experiment with a few ideas during my short term as a DELO, but I guess I'll reserve the sharing for another post. What I do want to share in this post is what I've learned through the three years of tumultuous yet rewarding experience.

What teachers want

When I tell people that I never actually left teaching, in my mind I was thinking about going back to school after I've 'satisfied my curiosity'. But after doing what I've been doing for quite some time, I realise that working with teachers is not that different from working with students. The experience is similar, in so many ways. What do teachers want? The same things that all students want.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Latest Edition of My Book

Just a quick post to announce the latest edition of my book for Year 6 English Language in the Genius DSKP KSSR series, published by Penerbit Ilmu Bakti. Comes with a booklet containing extra UPSR format practices. Available in most local bookstores.

To order online, visit:





Monday, February 19, 2018

Using Audiobooks to Engage Reluctant Readers: Articles and Publication

Hi! I hope it's still not too late to wish every one a Happy Lunar New Year! May the Year of the Dog brings you good health, prosperity and happiness! :)

I made this post as a follow-up to my previous post on the websites, YouTube channels and mobile apps where teachers can find good audiobooks for their classrooms.

Following that previous post, a lot of teachers have contacted me expressing their interests to try out audiobooks in their classrooms and their desire to find out more about it. I have promised to work on a post specifically dedicated to classroom activities using audiobooks. But before I come out with a new post, I think it would be a good idea to first share some of my previous works on the topic.

I have previously shared some of my materials on audiobooks on this blog and a few other platforms. To help make it easier for my friends who are interested in this topic, I have decided to compile everything in this single post for easy access.

Getting Started

If you've been following this topic from this blog and my Facebook page, you might have already come across my article on World of Better Learning on how I used audiobooks to help my students to be more motivated to read. If you haven't, I think the article would be a good place to start if you're interested in knowing more about how to utilise audiobooks' potentials in reading instructions.

Link to the article: Engaging Reluctant Readers

Sources of Audiobooks

In order to get started, you would of course need some audiobooks. I have created a post where I have compiled some of my favourite websites, YouTube channels and mobile apps where teachers can get good audiobooks for their classrooms.

Link to the blog post: Audiobooks for the Classroom: Websites, YouTube and Mobile Apps


Projects and Research

A lot of teachers I know would like to see how it's actually done in practice. In this post I've decided to share what I have done in my own school and with my own students.

I have published an article on the topic in the International Journal on e-Learning Practice (IJELP), Volume 2, 2015. Here's the abstract:

Audiobooks are valuable tools that have a lot of untapped potentials and benefits. This research explores the two different roles that audiobooks can play in helping reluctant readers to improve their reading skills and to get them to be more interested in reading. The research is conducted in a Malaysian primary school in a small village. It is targeted on 20 children who have been identified as reluctant readers. In the first cycle of this research, the role of audiobooks is as an input for learning. Audiobooks accessed through the Internet and mobile devices are used to assist children in their reading. In the second cycle, the role of audiobooks is as an output or product of learning. The respondents are engaged in the Audiobook Project, where they are given the opportunity to work collaboratively with their peers to create audiobooks and share their works on a blog. The quantitative data in this research is gathered through pre and post tests as well as a survey, while the qualitative data is derived from pre and post interviews. The findings of this research suggest that audiobooks are able to improve the respondents’ reading comprehension skills, engage reluctant readers and help develop their self-perception as readers. The findings also suggest that the potentials of audiobooks can be optimised to the fullest when they are used in combination with effective strategies such as collaborative learning, ICT integration and communicative approach.


The full text is available to download from this link: Engaging Reluctant Readers through Audiobook Project


I have also presented my Audiobook Project at the 25th MELTA International conference in 2015. The presentation has won the Basil Wijasuriya Silver Award for Outstanding Conference Presentation.

Link my presentation slides: The Use of Audiobooks in Improving Reading Comprehension and Changing Perception of Reading among Reluctant Readers




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