Tag Archives: teaching

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions

I stumbled upon this clever little quiz which asks you to match the facial expression to the emotion


and it got me thinking.

One of the things writers can do really well is evoke an emotion by describing a facial expression and/or some body language, without ever mentioning the associated word. In doing this they embody the idea of “show don’t tell” in their writing, offering hints and clues but allowing – expecting – the reader to decode the meaning for themselves.

So it might be a good idea to :

a. Take the quiz! See if you’re observant…


b. Pick one of the images. Turn the image into words. Describe what the face is doing without mentioning the emotion it captures.

And finally

c. Give the description to someone. Ask them to name the emotion you’ve captured in your description.

If they can’t get it ask yourself: are they the problem (they don’t get it!) or am I? Is my writing not specific/accurate enough to evoke that emotion in the reader?

If you’re not sure if it’s them or you, ask one or two more people if they can identify the emotion from your description.

If they can’t, chances are your writing is the problem!!!

If they can, yey you! Your writing rocks!



[youtube_sc url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvSZsNMugvc&list=UU669pcN0w7UoJhoXIOYZWFA]

Here’s a video I made back in October 2012 discussing why I think blogging is a good idea. I’m putting it here to illustrate one of the points I make below, which is that blogs have the capacity to be more than just word documents

That said, they can just be text and nothing else, if that’s what you prefer!

What exactly is a blog anyway?

The word ‘blog’ is short for ‘web log’. There are two main types of blog

– a blog which discusses a particular subject
– a blog which acts as a personal online diary

Blogs are

  • maintained by an individual or a company
  • regularly updated
  • interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments

Multimodal communication

What makes a blog different to communicating by writing a letter, a diary or an essay, is the fact that a blog is “multimodal”.

This means that you can add other media, so the blog post is not just writing!

These include:

1. Photos
2. Videos
3. Podcasts
4. Hyperlinks
5. Comments section

Very few blog posts will contain ALL of these elements however. For example, this blog post has writing, an embedded video and a few hyperlinks. It doesn’t have any comments yet (that’s up to the readers, not the blogger) and I haven’t bothered adding any photos or embedding any podcasts.

How do people find your blog?

Obviously you’ll try to promote it using social media, which is why I have a Facebook page and a twitter account for the website. You can see these embedded on the right hand side.

You’re also hoping that once your blog becomes popular, people will subscribe to it, which means they get an automatic email every time you publish a new post.

You also want people to stumble upon your blog because other people recommend either a blog post you’ve written that they really like or the blog itself. If you ever get a chance to go on the radio or TV, make sure you take the opportunity to mention your blog – it’s free advertising after all!

If your blog becomes really successful it’ll appear high up on a google search (or any search engine). How does this happen? Well you can “tag” posts with the main words you think people would put into a search engine if they wanted more info on the topic you’re blogging about. However, this alone won’t move you up the search engine list. Having lots of links in to your blog, lots of visitors, lots of comments and plenty of relevant tags are the main factors combined which will push your blog up the list.

If you’re afraid people will write nasty comments, you can click “approve comments” before you publish so that no comment goes up without your say so.

As of Feb 2011 there were 156 million public blogs in existence.

The language used tends to be fairly informal.

If you are asked to write a blog about a personal event(s) in your life write it in diary style.

If you are asked to write a blog about a particular topic write it in the style of an article.

If you’d like to get a sense of what young bloggers blogs look like, check out the Irish Blog Awards shortlist for Best Youth Blog



Blogs can be a hybrid of a few genres! As the lady who pointed this out to me eloquently stated, she “find[s] the most engaging posts tend to be a blend… with some sort of personal story, reflection or insight plus useful information for readers and ideally a call to action (as illustrated in your post Open Gardens that is part diary and part article)“.

The end result of this, of course, is that you don’t need to stress too much about making your blogpost ‘fit’ one genre or the other…

Story spine…

Road trip photo
Once upon a time there was a teacher who didn’t like computers very much. She felt shy in their presence. Unsure, uncertain, undone.

And every day, necessity came knocking on her door, crying loudly “the time is nigh, the time is near, embrace the future, defeat your fear”. But still the teacher hesitated, unwilling to jump into the abyss of all that she did not know.

Until one day, she took a road trip to a CESI meet and said unto those who knew so much more than she ever would “If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak to me then, who neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate”. And they replied with kindness and compassion for the teacher who knew so little and she began to feel like maybe, just maybe, she could do this (…but that’s a story from another day and you can read about it here).

And because of that she attended a 3 day digital bootcamp in Cork (here) and because of that she embraced more challenge based learning in her teaching. Not all the time, but more than ever before.

And because of that, and her compassion for those who, like her, were struggling to learn things never learned before, she won a lovely teaching award (here) and felt like maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t a total imposter, a feeling many teachers battle their entire career (‘who am I to teach you what you do not know?’).

Until finally, she felt an equilibrium gently bedding down in her soul. But once again necessity came knocking at her door, crying “the tablet era is nigh. Take your head out of your ass and stop being so smug about how much you know”. So she once again found herself seeking out those who could help her, with patience and kindness and compassion. And she found them, in @Krowdrah and @Andyisatwork and @cajcarter and @Lannoy29 and @Mrpielee and @catherinem23 and she rejoiced and was glad because one great teacher can make a difference but six make all the difference in the world. And being in a space with 200 great teachers for 6 days makes all the difference in the universe.

And ever since that day, she gives thanks daily for the wonderful educators who help her leap into the terrifying abyss of all that she does not know and all that she has yet to learn.


Story Spine is just one of the many things I learned at ADE Institute 2013 and yes, there’s an app for that! thanks @rebeccastockley

Connecting Teachers: Whose job is it anyway?

Collaboration is the new black. Every conference I attend; every commentator I hear trumpeting the success of coder dojo; every colleague who has tried it in their teaching agrees. Collaboration works.

I’m not talking about glorified group work. I know what that is; I’ve done it. It’s where I the teacher set a task so I can feel that my students’ opinions are valued when all the while I know I’ll end up feeding them my answer in the end so why should they bother? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the fact that this happens in my classroom. There are days when I hate myself for it. But sadly, unlike J Alfred Prufrock , I’m not always convinced that “there will be time, there will be time, for decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse” particularly at senior cycle. So I plough ahead because after all there is a course to cover and if I don’t get it covered I’ll be hanging up my “Teacher of the Year 2012” boots and adopting a rather fetching “Jackass of the Year 2013” limited edition instead.

No, I’m not talking about group work; I’m talking about the really meaty process of collaboration where people work together to create something that didn’t previously exist; something that fills them with the overwhelming urge to share.”Look at this thing we created. Look how great it is“.

But now that we know how valuable collaboration is; now that the research tells us what an effective learning tool it is, I find myself asking why the enormous potential of this wonderful invention known as the world wide web isn’t being used more effectively to facilitate greater collaboration between teachers in Ireland? Better connections, shared expertise, opportunities to connect.

I know it’s happening in pockets. I’m on the CESI list; I’ve conversed with hundreds of Irish teachers on twitter thanks to #edchatie; I’ve joined the INOTE facebook group to share ideas and resources and to tease out both new and old ways to teach effectively. But I’m also aware that there are thousands of teachers out there completely oblivious to the help and expertise that’s right there within their grasp if they just reach out and touch it. I know this because for eight years I was that person, living in a cave of my own invention and I wish, how I wish I had seen sooner what was just out of sight. Don’t assume reluctance, or laziness or complacency. For now, just assume ignorance – you can’t miss something you don’t know exists.

So what do I want?

Well a national database of English teachers would be a start (hell, let’s do it for every subject for that matter). This already exists. The Teaching Council have all of these details and I’m pretty sure there’s a smart computer programme out there somewhere which could cull this data into a usable list of email addresses. I think English would be a good place to start because ours is the first subject which will change in the new Junior Cycle so surely we’ll need to be kept in the loop and informed of new developments? Or am I just being a crazy person expecting to actually be informed about the changes which I will be introducing and implementing in my classroom? The teaching council website informs me that CPD is part of their remit. One of their aims is to facilitate networking among teachers. But I’m told they won’t give out this information to INOTE, the English teachers association (probably because of issues around confidentiality) and they won’t use it themselves. But goddamn it, listen to the voice of the people I say. Give us what we want. An Irish TES where we can share and connect and collaborate. You’ve got 10 million in the bank. What’s the problem?

So that’s two things on my wish list. A database of email addresses for English teachers and an Irish TES. But then I think, well maybe it’s not really the Teaching Council’s job? Maybe I should be looking to the PDST? Their job is definitely to facilitate CPD for teachers. They’re low on funding I know and swamped trying to deliver literacy and numeracy in-service (I attended a day long session recently that was just amazing). I also know they too have been compiling a list of English teachers in an effort to ensure that all teachers attend these literacy for English teachers in-services. Maybe they contacted the Teaching Council looking for this info and they too were refused. Who knows. Word on the street is they can’t share this list with the English teachers association either. Confidentiality I presume. We need to be protected from each other it would seem!

And what about the NCCA? They’re the ones driving the change and I know they’ve got a teachers network going among the pilot schools who are trying out ideas for the new Junior Cycle. I hear it’s great. But I’m on the outside not looking in but staring at a blank wall. I’ve been told that the new English syllabus / specification will be available for consultation in April/May. But don’t for a moment think that this means a letter will be sent to all English teachers. Or an email (from the list that exists but must not speak its name). It will most likely appear silently one day, I predict just as the State Examinations kick off. It will quietly lurk on a website unseen, unheard of by the vast majority of English teachers in this country (assume what you want about whether or not this is their own fault for not obsessively checking the NCCA website daily for updates). The book publishers will probably get their spoke in. And then with a flourish the new Junior Cycle English Specification will be introduced with minimal input from the people it effects the most – teachers and students – unless you’re in one of the pilot schools (and even then I’m told, by teachers in the know, that the consultation process often involves offering your input and then being completely ignored. Forgive me if I sound cynical – I try so hard not to be).

Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I am too demanding; too vocal; too politically incorrect. Perhaps I am foolish to think for a second that anything I say makes the slightest ripple of a difference to anyone in these organisations. Maybe if I care so much I should be taking this on myself? Free and gratis. Just the way this government likes us to operate. More for less. More and more and more and more for less.

Or perhaps  I’m right. Perhaps it’s time the hand started speaking to the arm and the arm to the body and the whole lot to the bloody head. If I’m making it sound terribly straightforward that’s because I believe it should be. Today we learned that a baby was cured of HIV; surely this is not beyond us?


Virtual Collaboration

I’m here in the town hall in Claremorris, hidden up on the balcony watching our school musical ‘Hairspray’ and typing this blog post. It’s fitting that while looking at the results of an incredible collaboration between staff and students, I’m also thinking about how easy online collaboration is and how much easier it’s made my life as a teacher.

Every year we participate in the Concern Debates, but finding the time to tease out the subtleties of each motion; to divide up the topic between the four speakers; to edit and re-edit the speeches and yet leave enough time to learn them off – all of this is a real challenge. Last year however, we started using an online learning environment and seriously, it’s made my life so much easier. The team pick a time that suits them – let’s say Tuesday evening at 9pm – then we all log on and tease out how we’re going to approach the motion. Everyone can ‘talk’ at once and still achieve loads; we can send each other links to relevant articles online; the team can post their speeches; critique each other’s work; anticipate opposing arguments and generally make the kind of progress that simply isn’t possible during a half hour meeting at lunch!

We use www.edmodo.com which is basically like facebook for education. Some of the time I take part but increasingly I feel like the team don’t really need me (which is great: independent learning is where it’s all at if you ask me!). Getting closer to the debate they can work together from the comfort of their own homes every evening. Honestly, I don’t know how we ever managed to take part in the debates without it. So at the risk of giving away the secret of our modest success so far (we’ve got one victory under our belts!) can I suggest that if you’re doing the debates and NOT using an online forum, you need to jump on this bandwagon pronto.

Setting up an account is instant: go to www.edmodo.com, click on “I’m a teacher”, create a group (we’ve given ours the very original label “Debating”), give the code to students, then they create an account using this code and voila, you’ve got an online classroom up and running. You can also give the code to any interested students who didn’t make the debating team or who decided they want to help but don’t want to actually speak out loud in public. Once the group is full you can change the code to prevent randomers from crashing the party (in a virtual sense!).

The possibilities are endless. I use edmodo for all of my class groups, so do the Claremorris coder dojo group and I’m told there are GAA teams and community groups up and down the country using it too. You don’t need to use edmodo though – I don’t want to come across like they’re my sponsor or something! Google docs works – I read a blog post recently from a proud dad whose son and his mates were using google docs to collaborate on a feature length film script! Twitter could work too if you used a hash tag specific to your group but this would be a very public way of preparing for a debate 😉 And hey, with class sizes getting bigger all the time, corrections piling up, CPD and Croke Park hours, anything that helps us to use our time more efficiently is a god send. If you want to know any more send me a message by clicking the feedback button on the left side of this page.