Monthly Archives: October 2014

A topsy-turvy day #livebloggingparty

Last summer during the iTDi summer school MOOC, I watched a lot of fantastic presentations. One of the ones that made a big impression on me was from Aysegul Liman Kaban. She introduced the idea of topsy-turvy teaching – doing things a little different from usual. In her view, topsy-turvy teaching made it more about the students and was a way of compassionately connecting with them. Her ‘ten commandments of topsy-turvy teaching’ included 1) build a PLN, 2) use the power of emotions, 3) don’t fear mistakes, 4) talk about mystery, 5) have a question wall, 6) give feedback, 7) surprise them, 8) use brain teasers, 9) use projects, and 10) use social media in class. I already do a lot of this in my own classes, but I decided to shake things up in my own way.

I decided to try something topsy-turvy in my own classes as a way to shake routine and find out how my students want to connect. So I turned my routine on its head for three classes one day.

My students know our normal classroom routine so well that they sometimes write the progression on the board for me before I enter the room. It goes something like this:

  1. Hello
  2. How are you?
  3. Check homework.
  4. Student book
  5. Maybe game
  6. New homework
  7. Line up
  8. Goodbye

2014-06-19 17.37.35In the first class (a basic beginner level class of 8 year olds), I started with a game. It was meant to review what they had learned the previous class and it was a hit. Then we tackled newer language in the textbook and practiced it. Then I checked their homework and gave them new homework. Finally the students asked each other how they were doing (the answers were quite similar to their usual answers) and lined up to say goodbye. I don’t know if they noticed that the routine had changed. They didn’t have any comments on it. For my part, I found that my time management was better in that class with the topsy-turvy routine, and the game at the start got them talking sooner than they usually do.

On to the second class. This is one of my challenging classes, so I recorded it. I started their class by putting the topsy-turvy progression on the board. I gave them their new homework first and they immediately started trying to complete it. Badly, since they hadn’t practiced the material yet. I stopped them and got them playing a game. All through the game, a few students interrupted periodically to ask why we haven’t done “how are you?” yet. Later, I kept saying. Look at the board. The interruptions became louder and louder and when the game was finished they took matters into their own hands and started asking each other “how are you?” My topsy-turvy plan turned topsy-turvy on me and I realized it might be because this is the only part of the class that the students feel they have control over and they were afraid it would be taken from them. I have been much gentler about changing routines with that class ever since.

The third class has learners who are a little older and of a higher level. Learning from previous mistakes, I explained to them first what I was planning to do. They were willing to try it, so I wrote the progression on the board. Before I told them the new homework, I asked them to simply write it down and not try it until I was checking their previous homework. They agreed. Then they asked if they could line up and go home first. Smart alecs. They were happy to start class with a game that reviewed the language they worked with the previous class. Then we used the book to work on new language and they practiced diligently with their partners and as a whole class. This time I found that my time management was less good with this topsy-turvy routine and there was barely time to check homework at the end of the class and no time at all to get their feedback on the upside down class.

What I learned:

  • Starting the class with a game is a great warm-up.
  • Time management is tricky even when I’m paying attention to it.
  • Some classes need warning when I’m planning on changing up the routine.
  • Learner buy-in is important.
  • Leave time for feedback.

Special thanks to my blogging buddy for her excellent suggestion to blog together in my chilly but beautiful seaside town. This post is part of a #livebloggingparty with @annloseva, the famous right-hand typist. We met on the beach in Gangneung to compose our blog posts side by side.

Beach Blogging with A-chan

Beach Blogging with A-chan

Playful writing: I’m thinking of…

This is the first in a series (hopefully) of posts on playful writing. This post was inspired by Chuck Sandy’s Teachers as Students iTDi blog post, “Learning to play: A writing lesson learned late”. In his post, Chuck underlines the importance of playfulness in writing. He shares advice he received from his university writing teacher, to write mounds and mounds of junk. To write “for the joy of writing”. This is what I would like my students to do, too.

I read an article recently about writers and their influences. The author aimed to show that many writers claimed that their writing styles were influenced by classic authors, but their love of writing was influenced by what he called “low-brow” stuff: comic books, choose-your-own-adventure novels, best-sellers with shiny covers – compared to Shakespeare and Shelley: junk. Written, perhaps, for the joy of writing and read, no doubt, for the joy of reading.

And so I am going to slowly work my way through Chuck’s 10 playful writing activities for the joy of writing (and so as not to ask my students to do something that I can’t do myself). I hope that reading doesn’t bore the pants off of you.

photo by alexkerhead retrieved from (Creative Commons)

Photo by alexkerhead, retrieved from (Creative Commons)

I am thinking of poetry. I am terrible at understanding poetry. I am terrible at reading it. I am terrible at writing it. It is a form that makes no sense to me. But I love having it read to me. I love the sounds of the words as they flow from someone’s lips to my ears, caressing the air in between. I love the rhythms as the words dance on the page. But I don’t understand what it is trying to say in my mind. I have no images formed, or only the bare essential images – the literal meanings of the words themselves. 

When I was a child, in the third grade, to be specific, I fancied myself quite a poet. I kept a notebook of poems and I wrote more every day. Now I realized that it must have been the mound and mounds of crap type of poems. I remember showing them to my teacher. I think her name was Mrs. Hoy. She read my notebooks and told me that the poems had no depth. They were nothing special. They just rhymed. She was right, actually. I wasn’t writing from my heart. I was writing from my head. Rhyme and meter were more important than meaning to me, and I was much too young to have the sort of experiences a real poet writes about, or at least to process those things. I never showed her my writing again.

I started writing again in the 6th grade. It was a terrible time for me – I couldn’t get along with my family and I couldn’t figure out how to make them see me as the adult I felt I was becoming. My father and I fought bitterly, ending in me sneaking out at night and making longer and longer journeys away from home during the day until I ran away completely. Maybe I was just being dramatic. Certainly I wanted attention. But I also was a lonely child and I wrote poetry and letters never intended to be sent. As I grew up, I became embarrassed of that time of my life and burned it all. It’s all gone now. 

Now I write blogs and stay away from poetry. I realized the truth in what Mrs Hoy said: I don’t really have any skill for poetry. I can produce a poem following rules of rhyme and meter, and I can teach my students to do the same, but I can’t give them my own examples of profound work. They, on the other hand, astound  me with the creativity of their own work all the time. But I don’t dare branch out from forms that I have some control over – diamante, haiku, cinquain, limerick, sonnet. Writing should have rules so that half the battle is easy to win.

I’ve become more interested in stories than poetry these days. I enjoy reading, writing, and telling short stories. And I have always and still do enjoy listening to stories and being told them. My students know now to expect, after an absence longer than a weekend, to expect the question: “How is everything? Tell me a story.” Some of them have long stories to tell. Some of them keep it short and sweet. One class has decided that our next unit will be storytelling, so that we can all learn to be better in the art of crafting and presenting stories.


And my ten minutes is up. Impressions: it was not easy to write on demand. It was not easy to write continuously for ten minutes. It was nearly impossible not to backspace and rewrite when there are errors. If I were using a pen and paper, I would cross out as automatically, I’m sure. I don’t like showing off my mistakes or the places where my brain and my fingers are out of sync. 538 words of unedited stream of consciousness: what came out of my head tonight when prompted to write.

If I do this writing task with students, I would shorten it to 5 minutes, I think. Or maybe start at 3 and work up to 10 over a year or two. Sometimes thoughts just won’t flow, so I’ll need to give them strategies for how to keep writing when you are (or think you are) thinking nothing. Maybe something along the lines of “I hate this stupid writing task. Why are you making us do this…”^^

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