Introducing Ms. Pillowy, my new teaching assistant. 

Today I bring a pillow to the classroom. 

“If you are tired, feel free to take a nap.” 


Total Editing Time

Time Working on the file

I didn’t know Word 2013 had this handy tracking function: it recorded the amount of time users spend working on a particular file.

Remarkably, sixteen hours and fifty-two minutes on my paper, Demand High Learning, for the 4th TESOL Conference at Ho Chi Minh City Open University.

Worth the efforts, isn’t it?

What does it take to be successful?

(Reading 1 Course for English Majors at HCMC Open Uni)

Take a look at my classroom’s board notes on success – a classic theme that is never absent from any English coursebooks for EFL learners.

Can you guess what we were talking about?


Yeah I mentioned the seven habits of highly effective people, self control (the marshmallow test), grit and deep practice (the 10.000 hour rule)

For each subtopic listed above I assigned group presentations.

I didn’t make the board illustrations. Students all by themselves. I simply asked them to support their PowerPointless presentations by doodling. The doodle idea works like a charm, and I’m thankful for having attended the online webinar on creativity hosted by Alan Maley, British Council a few months ago.

Back to the session, I ended the discussion by neatly jotting down the small-size talent on the bottom right corner of the board. Had to squat writing but heard some giggles, owing to my unfamiliar posture?

I supposed my fresh undergraduate minds had been notified of the true status of talent – the last, the lone and the least important attribute – when we were trying to portray success.


World-class teaching – a work in progress.

I’ve made myself crystal clear  that whoever be in my class has the right to world-class learning. I mean they will receive the most enjoyable, innovative, practical experience learning English. The first-rate educational systems do not certify Vietnam’s qualitication, but I’m trying to internationally certify my own class. I’m trying to be an inspiring teacher.

Class is expected to start at 6:00 PM. This is what it exactly looks like at 5:57 PM today.


23 minutes later. 6:20 PM


I was planning to have an early rest when she came, at 6:30


Thank you for the heart-warming smile, but it doesn’t not really save my teaching yet.

Then, she begged me to let her go home. ‘Teacher, I’m the only student (out of 6). Please’

Later I tried to tactfully release her at 8:00 P.M, after her completing a reading-oral reporting task. I think the reason she came was because of her absence on the previous day, when I commanded a heavy workload assignment before dismissing class at 8:45 P.M, the time when one student complained to a floor janitor that ‘This teacher’s weird. Normally we finish at 8:15. We’re totally exhausted. I’ve been working all day.’

Please accept my apology class, I’ll fix it next time!

Right now I’m enjoying my guilt.

Reality checked.

IATEFL Manchester Moments Part 1: The ordinary sides of ELT heroes

April 2015

Manchester, England

It’s hard to put your feelings into words when you realized the door keeper of Manchester Central on the first day of 49th IATEFL Conference was Gavin Dudeney. He welcomed guests to enter the venue. He smiled at participants. He gave directions. He was an ordinary person among us. Not the Edtech hero who has inspired teachers worldwide in appropriate pedagogy of technology integration in the classroom.

Then when you attended sessions, you’d be amazed when you happened to see the thinking face of Jeremy Harmer. What was he questioning? I remembered that session was about inclusion strategies of dyslexic children in the classroom. Did he agree with me that the presenter was not very convincing and the session was a bit full of de-motivation?

You’d be amazed too when you caught the silent gaze of Adrian Underhill in Alan Maley’s lead of the C for Creativity Open Forum. We did have a heated discussion but if it served me right he didn’t say a lot. The day after I interviewed him about his sources of inspiration for teaching. He mentioned jazz, which scared me a bit because I couldn’t play a musical instrument. Anyway the talk was fun. Just imagine you had chance to personally interview a legendary ELT improvisation expert.

Before that you’d had David Nunan, Cynthia James and Sue Garton on how research was gaining more momentum in the working agenda of IATEFL. I very much loved their sincere sharing.

And you’d had Sarah Mercer, the new coordinator of ReSIG. She admitted that all research work is a mess. And that we as teachers had to straighten them up, and had the courage to end the research show. That was really inspiring for a young researcher like me! Giving up is always a lasting temptation, even for expert researcher.

Then I finally had a chance to talk to Nickly Hockly, just to thank her and the Consultants-E for the E-moderation scholarship in 2014. Without that course, I didn’t think my writing skills would have been that sharp to win an IATEFL scholarship.

On writing this I am frozen. IATEFL is a dream that I didn’t dare to dream. And it just happens anyway.

Thank you IATEFL.

Thank you Lord.

Adrian Underhill (right)
Gavin Dudeney (right) presenting Quality Assurance of Online Courses
Roy helping me to rehearse for my presentation
with Cambridge scholarship winners and granters
Manchester Central
Sue Garton, David Nunan and Cynthia James


With the Nepalese delegate

Flipping Classroom, Bringing Classroom to Life and TESOL HCMC Assembly

Highlights from Carolina Nabors’ Flipping classroom, David Persey’s Bring classroom to life and TESOL HCMC Assembly Meeting on 15 May 2015

Place: Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Part 1: Flipping classroom

There’s no doubt that flipping classroom is not a new tech trend but it’s always useful to learn implementations from real practitioners. This time the topic was interestingly addressed by Ms. Carolina Nabors, an English Language Fellow who shared her experience working at HCMC University of Education. A very approachable talk indeed!


The key thing is teachers should flip the order of Bloom’s taxonomy. While the traditional classroom sequence would be Remember activities on the bottom line, Flipping classroom contested that order:


She suggest that Flipping should be considered on one of these four conditions:

  1. When the topics are confusing.
  2. When key knowledge points need covering.
  3. When topics are boring.
  4. When teachers want to adopt an authentic approach.

Useful websites like Youtube, Purdue Owl, TedEd and were also highly recommended.

In my opinion, the most interesting part of her talks was when she described her previous teaching experience in Nicaragua. Since there was limited internet connection, teachers there had good reasons to laugh at the idea of flipping. She then challenged their thinking by using available tech tools – USB. She copied files to students’ USB, asking the public Internet owners to let students use the computer for some free hours. It simply worked.

Back to Vietnam’s context, she was very glad it looked like an Internet heaven here so Flipping could be carried out with no organization hurdles. And she affirmed that social media (Facebook) works better than other forms (email) when it comes to classroom communications. It makes sense: Facebook users now reach the billion-user milestone.

Again and again the ‘start small’ reminder resonates other speakers on technology integration: teachers can introduce flipping lessons at some points in the course and on selected topics rather than putting all eggs into one basket.

My conclusion is that Vietnamese learners of English are ready to be flipped. It’s how and what we flip that matters. And Carolina’ talk successfully presented a strong case.

Part 2: Bringing classroom to life

David Persey on Bringing Classroom to Life (promoting the coursebook series Life by National Geographic and Cengage Learning)

Following Caroline’s talk, David, more than once, surprised me and Carolina herself (from her facial expressions J) by referring to the concept of ‘Teachers as Facilitators’ mentioned earlier in Carolina’s talk. He had been listening to Caroline very attentively, taking notes and adding new slides to his presentation. Such an encouraging listener!

The other two practical things I’ve learned are how teachers can make learners SCAN the image and use their own personal films to activate classroom engagement. Image should be shown first with guiding questions. Students then had a quick discussion and predictions before teachers revealing answers.

Guess who this person is.
Guess who this person is.

In order to use effective videos in the classroom, teachers can play the sound first, with the visuals being covered, students then guess the 5W content of the film: Who/What/Where/When/Why. And he went further by showing how personal family films can be motivating.

Overall David has proven to be a truly professional presenter: he listened, he shared and he activated participation.

Part 3: TESOL HCMC Assembly

On commenting the new term of TESOL HCMC(2015-2017), a new board of TESOL HCMC was elected. Here is the full list:

  1. Dr. Doan Hue Dung
  2. Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Vu
  3. Dr. Le Hoang Dung
  4. Dr. Do Huu Nguyen Loc
  5. Pham Tan, M.A
  6. Tran Quang Minh, M.A
  7. Mai Minh Tien, M.A
  8. Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong, M.A
  9. Le Thanh Ngan, M.A
  10. Nguyen Thi Thu Ngan, M.A
  11. Nguyen Nhu Tung, M.A
  12. Bui Thuc Quyen, M.A
  13. Tran Dinh Nguyen Lu, M.A
  14. Bui Duc Tien, M.A
  15. Tran Quoc Viet, M.A

Honorary Member: Dr. Tran Thi Minh Phuong

Thank you Carolina, David and University of Social Sciences and Humanities for hosting this useful event. TESOL HCMC Association will surely return with more valuable professional development activities for teachers in Ho Chi Minh City!

[Report TESOL Talks 2]’The Secret History of Methods’ and ‘Discourse Analysis’

TESOL Talks (a quarterly ELT talk in Ho Chi Minh – a joined effort by RMIT University, ACET and TESOL Ho Chi Minh Association) have started to exert their impact in the community after the second show. In fact, having a prominent book author and ELT pacesetter like Scott Thornburry as the main speaker is no small deal at all.

Fiona (Coordinator Proffessional Learning at RMIT) hooked the audience by an engaging story, narrating the two-year effort to invite Scott Thornburry, who she addressed as a ‘TESOL hero’, to Vietnam back to the days of KOTESOL in 2012 while the experience being described as ‘the amazing race’.


Prior to this, our MC, Heather (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam with her really attractive signature laugh) reminded us the focus of our teaching career and passion, with reference to the students as the center of all of these efforts. I really appreciate how visions of TESOL Talks are shaped: everything they do, they do it for students’ benefits! This should be the way that TESOL Talks carry on to the future.

Then the big names of TESOL Talks committee were mentioned. There we had Paul (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam, also Chairman of the Committe). We had Ms. Kim Le, vice-president of TESOL Ho Chi Minh. We had Jason, Director of Studies at ACET. While it is expected that TESOL talks will try to engage all teachers of English in Ho Chi Minh City, there is uncertainty regarding its format, time, and venue. TESOL Talks are still trying to find its core identities and representations.

Next, our distinguished guest, Scott, commenced his first talk in the ‘The Secret History of Methods’. I can see his humility since he admitted right from the start that what he was saying would just make a‘humble contribution’; that he hadn’t learned much about the ‘contexts’ of TESOL in Vietnam and all of us should adapt his instructions. Fair and square!


His method of researching content for this talk is quite simple: he would scavenge all the dusty old bookstores, scanning for forgotten ELT books, picking out the relevant bits and pieces and making comparisons with state-of-the-art methods and approaches.


This is how he engaged participants in his presentation: He got some short extracts from books, gave them to some audience to read aloud and told the audience to respond with “Yay” if they agreed with the statement and “Nay” if they didn’t. I didn’t anticipate academic presentations could be this fun and motivating!




From such evidence backed up with audience’s choral responses, he drew out the dimensions of methodology:


The audience quickly noticed the left side indicated Grammar Translation Method while the right side referred to Communicative Language Teaching or Task-based Learning.

Then he introduced DOGME, quoting the definition from his own book “Teaching Unplugged” (The one that won the ELTON Award a few years ago. Worth reading huh 🙂


“Materials-light” and “Conversation-driven” might be two important features in ESL or ENL contexts (where conversations in English can be heard on the street, in the coffee shop or schools). Right here in Ho Chi Minh City, as Non-native English Speakers Teaching English in a pure EFL context (well, I’m not sure if RMIT maintains an strict English only policy), it surely looks challenging to adopt DOGME. We must carefully select the right site (western quarter in District 1- Pham Ngu Lao Street for example) and craft the right language use to adhere to the authenticity of the situation.

In other words, while the effects of DOGME on learners and teachers elsewhere might be overwhelming, the real implementation of this should be at the level of extension to or supplementary of the main curriculum, whether they are textbook-driven or a common framework-driven.

[Break Time]

We had informal dialogues (also a wonderful time for networking!) which were hosted by volunteers chatting about different topics such as Task-based Learning, Blended Learning, Eclectic Approach,etc. IMG_20141011_105506Part 2 of the event was Scott’s talk on discourse analysis (titled ‘Is there discourse on this course?’), which could have vast applications in exploiting text types to figure out features of texts before producing a similar genre. Say, ‘traumarama’ for teen girls (from Seventeen magazine)IMG_20141011_120848

This part of the event showed Scott’s charisma and wit as a professional speaker by academically entertaining the audience at 12PM (an inconvenient time for most Vietnamese: this should be when we have meals or nap 🙂


Anyway we did not notice the time at all owing his humorous and insightful analysis of the underlying structures of a specific genre:


He emphasized the importance of corpus analysis and how it can be done using online resources. A useful advice for practicing teachers to have a sense of material writing or getting into the mind of material writers. Finally, implications were presented:IMG_20141011_123843

At the end of the talk, the closing etiquette was also unexpected: the organizers persuaded the participants to return the badges, putting them in a paper bag for a lucky draw of a chocolate prize. What can be a better parting gift? A brilliant idea!

Key takeaways from TESOL Talks 2:

1. In ELT, reinventing the wheel still holds some values.

2.DOGME , teaching unplugged, emerges as a valid ELT approach.

3. Academic presentation does not have to be plain and boring: use ‘Yay’ and ‘Nay’ activity.

4. Integrate discourse into the curriculum by collecting authentic texts in its context uses.

All of teachers at my school agreed that TESOL Talks was a huge success; however, there can be still room for improvement for future TESOL Talks

1. Approaching the event, my colleagues asked me about the confirmation letter after completing the online registration since they did not receive any thing. There should be such a letter and also a thank you letter for their participation?

2. Bottles of water can be in a smaller size to cut down costs 🙂

3. Should there be certificates of participation for teachers who attend all TESOL Talks in 2014?

4. I believe that if the timing for the talk shifted to the afternoon, more teachers would attend. As usual, many have classes on Saturday morning at language centers where they couldn’t change their working schedule.

Thank you RMIT University, ACET Vietnam and TESOL Ho Chi Minh for this precious meet-up.

See you soon!

[Book Review] Deep Practice


Review: Coyle, Daniel (2006). The Talent Code. Chapter 1: The Sweet Spot


The much heated debate of nurture vs. nature has been well-documented in numerous publications. On one hand, those who argue for the innate factor of champions emphasize the importance of genes and how to identify those genes should be the focus of empirical research. On the other hand, a majority of educational circles would advocate the importance of training and the environment in which a champion is raised.  Daniel Coyle in the first chapter of the book The Talent Code provides a strong case for the latter viewpoint.

In the first chapter, the author himself travels to different places around the world which is figuratively referred to “Chicken-wire Harvards”. Obviously, those places should have been well-known for a specific kind of outstanding achivements, for example, to understand what makes a soccer superstar, he went to Brazil-the country of five-time World Cup Champions to learn how Brazilian soccer players practice football sessions. Similarly, to tennis courts in Moscow, to music academy in New York, etc. There he found out the method to build winners.

 The author builds up his hyphothesis by examining two case studies. One is Edwin Link’s method of training pilots which was adopted when Air Corps pilot selection and training procedure failed. Edwin Link’s model was superior in the sense that pilots-to-be have much more practice and much more opportunites to make mistakes during training. And Edwin Link made it! The other case is from Brazil. He realized how Brazilian excelled at soccer by observing them play futsal. Players, forming teams of six, had to compete against others in closed spaces so that they would practice the ability to well-controll the ball. Later a soccer coach called Simon Clifford learned the technique and opened a school in England. It seemes that Simon Clifford’s replica has begun to reap some success.

 “Sweet spot” chapter is well-supported. The success-proven case studies makes the narratives more convincing and also based on scientific study based on Robert Bjork, the chair of psychology at UCLA who claimed that “Things that appear to be obstacles turn out to be desirable in the long haul…One real encounter, even for a few seconds, is far more useful than several hundred obdervations.”  Robert Bjork defines “sweet spot” as “It’s all about finding the sweet spot. There’s an optimal gap between what you know and what you’re trying to do. When you find that sweet spot, learning takes off.” (p.19)

So, that’s it. All you need to know is deep practice regardless of your abilities or disadvantaged traits. “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – make you smarter. Or to put it a slighly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them…” (p.18) “Deep practice” is also valuable in the sense that it open doors to educators, including parents, teachers, decision-makers, to have a firm belief in appropriate practice at home and school and in the impact education has on a child’s education. Daniel Boyle’s ideas are later resonated in the book “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell. To be more exact, Gladwell can identify the number of hours required to be an outlier – a person who conducts amazing deeds. Here is the magic number: 10.000 hours or ten years of severe training.

Skeptics might argue that such training could be weird in some exent and it would take a whole lots of courage to refute the traditional educational methods. It might look ridiculous to an outsider indeed and I woul also express my doubt. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole book to really figure out how to apply such theories into practice.

All in all, I still find the book intriguing and  one would not deny the positive case for the role of environment factor. What I learn is that to train a champion is to treat them like a champions-to-be and put them under situations where they have to struggle with other champions-to-be. “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.”

(Illustrations are extracted from 


First TESOLTalks Ho Chi Minh City

A report on TESOL Talks (first session), organized by HCMC TESOL Association, Australian Centre for Education and Training, and RMIT University Vietnam

For a link to the event brochure, click here:


Presenters: Anna Mendoza (English Language Teacher, Australian Centre for Education and Training) and Travis Henry (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam)

Photo 1: Workshop Presenters


What is Gamification? The presenters borrowed a definition from Sheldon (2012,p.75): ‘Simply put, Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game activities. Its underlying idea is to increase engagement.’ We can see that game mechanics would be the controlling concept in the definition. Analyzing principles that makes ‘Angry Birds’ a very popular mobile game, they listed their main characteristics. Firstly, games often maintain a reasonable progression of difficulty so that every player can have a sense of achievement in the first few rounds. Secondly, games provide players opportunities to undertake repetition; they will try until they succeed, learning from mistakes. And most enjoyably, games engage all ages because they involve competition – self and peer. Anna and Travis then analyzed Briggs and Tang (2011, p.6)’s taxonomy of engagement: Memorizing à Note taking à Explaining à Relating à Applying à Theorizing, which would then be illustrated through these activities:

  1. Activities for describing and explaining

a. Pictionary: there are two main stages. First, a volunteer would draw an illustration of a given word on the board which would be guessed by teammates. Then the team must brainstorm as many words as they can relating to the drawing.

b. Pelmanism: matching words to pictures.
c. 10-second idea: in 10 seconds, students draw pictures to illustrate a concept. Others the guess the concept and further provide collocations or more lexical sets.

Photo 2: 10-second idea

2. Activities for Relating
a. Picture-Word search: They first must to figure out what words to search for before searching them on a traditional letter grid. A nice twist to the traditional word search activity!

Photo 3: Picture-word Search


b. Vocabulary soup: pick words/concepts from a container and describe and explain. The reason it is called ‘Soup’: just a catchy name for the activity! 
3. Activity for Applying and Theorizing: Investment Presentation
Personally I think this activity is a truly gamified activity. The outcome of lesson is a presentation about investment. Instead of reading and writing from traditional materials, they would go to, sign up for an account, join a group set by the teacher and live the life of a broker/trader. After a given time, they would give a presentation about that experience, collecting data from their investment losses and gains. A must-try activity!

Part 2: Panel Discussion on Student Engagement.

We were pleased to have these distinguished guests:

Heather Swenddal (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam, Moderator)

Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Vu (Dean of English Department, HCMC University of Education)

Paul Williams (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam)

Jason Bednarz (Director of Studies, Australian Centre for Education and Training)

Nicholas Maxwell (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam)

Dr. Tran Thi Minh Phuong (Lecturer – Faculty of English Linguistics and Literature USSH)

Photo 4: Panel guests

jpg (1)

We experienced a power cut so our Moderator’s pre-prepared slides were omitted, making it somehow harder to keep track of the discussion rationales, but the discussion was still rigorous and maintained a high level of ‘engagement’. Heather introduced the topic by narrating her own personal story of a quiet student who turned out to be a total different personality after contacting her on Facebook, telling his life challenges leading to his problems in the classroom.

  1. Definition: different perspectives were discussed on a definition of student engagement, whether it is a state or something that leads to learner autonomy from the benefits and purposes of using games in the classroom. Dr. Vu treated it as a verb, ‘engage’, elaborating that engaging students mean using engaging content and technology. It should also involve affective factors relating to Heather’s narrative.
  2. What kinds do we value?

This part provoked a much heated debate. The panel agreed on the importance of standardized testing (backwash) in Vietnam’s context, citing the example of IELTS and other high-stake tests. Paul advocated that ‘We can’t change assessment. IELTS is IELTS’ but then further clarified how his student thanked him for things beyond exam skills. External and internal motivation seems a perpetually controversial issue.

  1. Whose responsibility is it? How can we develop learner autonomy?

No final decision reached but it appears that students do have a role to play in the engagement process, that they have to ‘experience themselves’ (Nick). Paul then called for an adaptation in curriculum written for Vietnamese learners thus highlighted the importance of personalization. Dr. Vu again stressed the power of technology as well as students’ self-regulation and choices while Dr. Phuong directed the focus on teacher’ design tasks. Nick then argued that sometimes teachers had to make negotiations, not to give students’ too much freedom, asking ‘What if they suggested unprofessional things?’. Heather concluded by saying that we had to balance the ingredients, channeling students’ future career, being ‘a scholar or businessman’


  1. How can we build students engagement?

Heather listed different levels where changes should be implemented: institutions, circular, lesson planning and lesson delivery. On the institution level, Paul advised deans to take teachers’ feedback seriously. Jason said that as teachers we should be salesmen to convince our deans or heads to trust our implementation. As far as lesson planning and delivery was concerned, Dr. Vu reflected on how he treated students as digital natives, making more use of technology and project-based learning which was useful both for themselves and the greater good of our society. Ms. Phuong called for a clearer outcome of each lesson.

Photo 5: Great contribution from the audience


Key Takeaway from TESOL Talks:

1. Design classroom tasks from the view of Gamification: Increasing Difficulty, Task Repetition and Competition.

2. Try for Business English classes.

3. Student engagement must be a multi-way interaction: top-down (curriculum) and bottom-up (students themselves).


1. Not many teachers have heard of this meaningful event so many seats were unoccupied. We should inform this to a larger demographic teaching community: Facebook groups, TESOL HCM website and spreading the news to colleagues.

2. Let’s hope the next session of TESOL Talks would last at least a full day J

Mai Minh Tiến



Why I will not quit teaching English


Written by Phuong Quoc Tran (Grade 9.5_VAS Ba Thang Hai_School Year 2013-2014) in October 2013, I wish I could have done better at the end of the school year when nothing amazing happened. I will frame and put these nice words on my home wall to remind my duty as a motivator, not a mere educator.

“Than you Mr. Tien Minh Mai, for introducing us to the achievements we can reach, the dreams we can grasp, and also the small things in front of us that we haven’t perceived. You give us great inspiring assignments, pushing us to do what we thought were impossible. You turn a normal speech in class into a TED talk, you spark our self-esteem, transmitting the message to each of us, almost like shouting at us that we can be someone important, someone who will one day stand on that very stage, giving other people a speech that will somehow change their lives. And the amazing thing is, you do that in just one small insignificant classroom…”