Category Archives: Reflective Practice

Reflections on Four Approaches to Group Discussion Activities

This week was the penultimate week of classes for 2013 and, with all the material for the exam covered, I now have the flexibility to teach every group of students differently and thus experiment with my classes a bit more. Normally this is frowned upon in my school as the belief is that, if all students are taking the same exam, they should all do exactly (and I mean exactly) the same lesson. This is (supposedly) in order to prevent one group of students being given an unfair advantage (a subject for another blog another time).

Given this flexibility I decided to do some action research this week and chose to try and find out what the best way of facilitating free discussion and to encourage the sharing of opinions is for my Korean high school students. I did this by implementing four different methods for organising a discussion activity over the course of the week.

Continue reading Reflections on Four Approaches to Group Discussion Activities

Making Student Diaries a Positive Learning Experience

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How can we make student diaries a positive learning experience?
Regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much recently, I’m actually on a two month winter holiday, although I’m working for one month at a winter camp before jetting off to the Philippines for the month of February.

For anyone that doesn’t know, a winter camp here in Korea does not, unfortunately, involve any camping. It does involve children as young as first grade being shut in classrooms for 7+ hours a day and supposedly taught, in English, how to become ‘global leaders’ or something similar. The camp I’m working at is affiliated with a top university in Korea, and so I had high hopes regarding the content and expectations, I was disappointed!

In my normal job I teach my own curriculum, make my own lessons and develop my own materials. In this camp I have no choice but to teach the syllabus, materials and in the style expected of me, most of which go against my teaching beliefs. The benefit of this, however, is that the situation has helped me reflect on the importance of having learning objectives in everything we do.

Over the next couple of weeks (time permitting) I’m going post a few ‘changes’ I would make to aspects of this camp that I feel would help students to achieve actual learning objectives. I’m going to start with looking at the system of student diaries.

Student Diaries

At the moment, these are simply a waste of time! This is such a shame as they are time consuming and could be such a fantastic learning tool.

Currently the process is for students to write diaries, hand the diaries to teachers, the teachers correct the diaries and write an obligatory comment, give the students back the diary, maybe the student briefly scans the comment, student puts it in their folder, it is never looked at again.

What a waste of a learning opportunity. Here are a few short suggestions that I suggest could improve the student diary writing process. I would love to hear of how you use student diaries as an effective learning tool in the comments:

1)      Relate the student diaries to classroom content. If you are covering a certain language point in class, why not give them the objective of concentrating on this in their diaries, therefore encouraging the repetition of language and helping to reinforce learning.

2)      Identify common mistakes in the student diaries. Take five minutes of class time to explain to the students how to correct the mistake and give them worksheets to practice at home. Give students a reward if in the next diary none of the class repeat the mistake. This will also prevent the cementing of incorrect knowledge.

3)      Encourage peer checking. This can be used hand in hand with the above suggestion. Have the students check each other’s diaries for the specific types of mistakes.

4)      Make your comments meaningful. So many of the comments I see are something like ‘wow, that sounds fun, don’t forget to use the past tense’. One way of doing this is to give examples in the comments, then have students make one or two new sentences using the examples to help them.

5)      Encourage a diversity of content. One thing I’ve noticed is that each student tends to write about the same subject over and over.  Perhaps it could be possible to suggest different themes for the diaries, however it’s important not to stifle student creativity.

6)      Promote self-monitoring. Once the diaries have been corrected, have the students give themselves feedback on how they think they did and what they think they can improve next time. Have students keep a log of what they have improved on for them to refer back to and monitor their progress.

I would love to hear any more suggestions you have on how to make student diaries a meaningful learning experience for students. I will try and post some more reflections over the next few weeks on what I have learnt while working at the camp. Also, don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh or ‘like’ us on facebook to receive regular updates.

Comments

09/01/2013 06:54

Hey Alex S Walsh,

Nice post. You brought back some (sad) memories for me. When I think about all the wasted hours I have spent on journals in English camps in Korea my head spins.

I am curious if there are any instructions given for the journals?

I am also curious about what students tend to write about as you said it is nearly always the same topics.

I think that this experience is a good chance for you to see your beliefs more clearly, so good on you about that.

I think you offer great ideas here. I especially like make comments meaningful. I think this can easily be forgotten when the mission is simply to “mark” or “complete” the journals.

One additional idea that came to mind was for teachers to highlight (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) errors and have students go back and change them.

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

Best wishes,
mg

Learning from the Perils of Student Feedback

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At the end of last semester I asked my students for very structured and detailed feedback on their feelings towards their course and my teaching style (to see the blog click here). This semester I decided to approach the task of obtaining student feedback very differently. I simply gave the students two pieces of paper and asked the students to write on one piece of paper ‘one thing they liked about the course that we should keep the same for 1st grade students next year’ and ‘one thing they think we could change to improve the course for the 1st grade students next year’. Their only other direction was that I only wanted to know about my course, not the other native teacher’s course. As you can tell these questions are extremely vague and also very subjective, I designed them like this as I really wanted to know the first thing that popped into my students heads.

They feedback from these questions has been…… interesting and exemplified many of the issues we must take into account when learning from our students’ feedback.

Without a doubt the most common feedback given for ‘a thing we should change’ has been that I should give less homework. That would be fine, apart from the fact I have only given one VERY short homework activity this semester! The other native English teacher has given homework every week though, so I can only imagine the students have got confused regarding where the homework has come from. They have simply thought conversation class = homework. So this presents my first issue:

1. Often students may not be giving feedback specifically on the course we ask, but (consciously or unconsciously) their general feelings towards English, our institution, their feelings towards life or anything else at the forefront of their minds.

For the next few classes that day I purposefully mentioned to the classes, before the feedback activity, that they had not received any homework this semester. I hoped that by slyly getting that in there I might encourage students to think about something other than homework, I was wrong. More than half of the feedback slips then said “give more homework to the students next year” often justified by adding “because it will help them improve and practice their English”. That is a good reason, although I’m sure that somewhere in the back of their minds they just want the new students to have to work even harder than they did! This presents another problem with student feedback:

2. We have to consider the motivations for a student’s feedback. Their comments may not always be motivated by wanting to achieve the same goals as we are.

Another very common comment for something I could change centered around a certain type of activity I have regularly used this semester. This activity involves students having to summarise pieces of information and then share their findings with others in the class to complete the whole task. It’s a very standard mingling activity, one that I find extremely effective and results in a large block of constant speaking and listening practice. Some of the student’s don’t seem to like it as they don’t like getting out of their seats and they don’t like having to speak to so many people in the class in English. It is, however, a fantastic activity for practicing a large number of skills, I find it very effective, but the students suggested removing it. This brings me to a third problem:

3. We are the professionals, not our students (or their parents for that matter). Sometimes we have to go with what we think is best for our students whether they like it or not, this can include curriculum design, classroom activities, rewards and punishments. We should not take negative feedback literally.

Many students also made comments regarding the logistics of the classes, such as that we should have a lesson outside when possible, that they would prefer it if there was no Korean co-teacher in the room or that classes should be mixed. Most of these things I actually agree with them about, apart from the co-teacher suggestion, as I am fortunate to have extremely professional and effective co-teachers at my school. These suggestion are, however, logistically impossible, for legal reasons a co-teacher must be in the class, for safety reason classes are not allowed to be taken outside without permissions from the vice-principle and having mixed classes is a decision that would be made by the school not me, which brings me to the final problem with students feedback:

4. Students are often unaware of the logistical reasons as to why certain decisions are made and why certain limitations are put in place and the boundaries we have to work within as teachers. Unless these issues are discussed with the students after they have given the feedback they may think they are simply being ignored.

Of course I am not suggesting ( even for a nano-second) that we shouldn’t engage in student feedback, for me it is one of the most invaluable tools for professional development we have, but we have to be aware of the limitations in order to make the feedback as useful and meaningful as possible. By being aware of the problems above I can narrow down what I should be learning from the feedback.

To provide very brief examples, from the first couple of suggestions I can learn that homework is obviously a sensitive issue to my students. This is understandable considering they are in academies until 10 p.m every night, so I must make sure that next year I make students aware of exactly why they are being given homework, what the benefits to them in completing it are and give them ample time and support in completing it. From the third suggestion I can learn that I need to spread these types of activities out so they don’t over-burden students, this year they were heavily concentrated in the second semester, next year I will plan the syllabus more evenly. The fourth problem can help me realise not that I should ask my co-teacher to leave the room next year, but that her role and how the students can benefit from having her in class must be made clear to the students at the start of the course.

Student feedback is invaluable, but only if we are aware of the difficulties involved with collecting and analysing it. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as getting some feedback and making the changes. Student feedback isn’t always as objective or clear as we would like, but there are always important lessons learn.

Don’t forget you can follow my slightly more concise ramblings on twitter @AlexSWalsh or to keep updated with AlienTeachers ‘like‘ us on facebook!

Comments

06/12/2012 19:12

I think it’s great you’ve asked your Ss for feedback again and that you’re trying a new approach. In the ‘breaking rules’ course J.Fanselow encourages asking for 2 or 3 answers to questions like ‘why was this activity useful / not useful?’. The reasoning behind this is that the 1st response may be very easy to think of yet the 2nd and 3rd cause some deeper thought and more consideration and therefore can lead to more valuable responses. You mentioned homework came up a lot in the feedback; this might be because this is an easy answer for Ss to give and means they don’t have to reflect on the past year in too much depth. Maybe by asking for more than one reason you might get a wider variety of responses…?
(p.s. this is in no way a criticism; I really hope it doesn’t come across like that because I think it’s fantastic that you care so much about your Ss views. I just became aware of this idea through the BR course and thought it might be useful, be interested to hear what you think?)
Gemma.

Reply
AlienTeachers
09/12/2012 23:38

Hi Gemma!

I think that is a great suggestion and a great way to get feedback. Asking for a reason behind their response would definitely encourage more depth on the thought process. It’s certainly something I’ll try. To be honest for this feedback I really wanted the students to write down the first thing that came into their heads. I guess it was kind of an experiment but I was just interested to see what they would write.

Thanks again for the suggestion, I think that might be how I conduct my next lot of feedback! Always like to experiment with new approaches!

Reply
AH
06/12/2012 20:05

I really like your post. I think feedback is an excellent tool for reflection, when considered and analysed as you have done.

Feedback is also important to me, both with students and with the other teachers I work with. I consider it a sort of dialogue, and I am lucky to work with small enough groups to engage in that dialogue often. I usually give and receive feedback from students a few times each term – at the end of each week. That way we can improve the class for the following week and it gives me a chance to explain my decisions that they may not have understood.

That said, your third point is very important. It emphasises that student preferences, while important, should be taken into account within the framework of our own knowledge and skills. Otherwise, what are we here for?

Reply
AlienTeachers
09/12/2012 23:40

Hi ‘AH’!

First of all thanks for reading and taking the time to comment 🙂 You mentioned you get feedback on a weekly basis, that is really awesome and I agree it is a great opportunity for you to address any concerns the students have in the next class. Out of interest how much time does it take up and how do you go about doing it?

Thanks again,

Alex

Reply
07/12/2012 03:09

Great post. Garnering student feedback is a bit of a minefield. I’ve experimented with making it a small group discussion task first. Then, asking each group to write the main points, which they hand to you when they leave the class.

Experience suggests that each class has a different dynamic and certain types of feedback won’t work with certain groups or types of students.

Looking forward to the next post.

http://www.tefltrainerspain.com

Reply
AlienTeachers
09/12/2012 23:43

Hi Dylan,

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I absolutely agree the gathering feedback is a minefield. It is an invaluable process but there certainly doesn’t seem to be an ideal way of doing it. As you say I think experimenting and trying different things with different classes is the best way for us to learn as teachers what does work and what doesn’t work.

Out of interest have you had any success in getting feedback from either large classes or teenage classes? What did you find works? I’d love to hear what other teachers are trying.

Thanks again,

Alex

‘Understand’ – One Word, SO Many Problems!

                   
                                     un·der·stand/ˌəndərˈstand/
Verb:
1.      Perceive the intended meaning of (words, a language, or speaker): “he could usually make himself understood“.
2.      Perceive the significance, explanation, or cause of (something): “she didn’t really understand the situation”.
Synonyms:
comprehend – realize – see – apprehend – grasp – perceive 



‘Understand’ – surely if we created a corpus of language used in ESL/EFL this word would be near the top. But what do we mean by it and why does it cause us so many problems?

I honestly don’t think there is any teacher in the world who can honestly say they haven’t at least once spent several minutes explaining an activity, probably given an example too, and then looked at twenty or more slightly confused looking faces and said “so, do you understand?” to which the twenty students have all replied “yes, teacher” only for that activity to descend into chaos with half the group of students doing completely different things and the other half doing nothing. ‘Why won’t students just tell us if they don’t understand?’ we then ask ourselves. As teachers we very quickly learn (hopefully anyway) that asking students if they understand is not really a sound method for establishing if they have actually ‘understood’ or not. To make matters even worse, students are smart, cunningly smart, and they deviously use this word to their advantage. It usually goes something like this:

T – Why haven’t you started the activity? You should have started five minutes ago.
St – I don’t understand it, it’s too hard for me.
T – Well, have you actually read it yet or have you just been talking about Psy with your friend?
St – Talking with my friend.
T – So how could you understand it if you haven’t read it?
St – Sorry teacher, I’ll read it now.
T – Thank you!

By claiming a lack of ‘understanding’ students seem to feel it warrants taking an extended break from activities because they happen to feel lazy at that moment. So how, as their teacher, can we actually know if they really don’t ‘understand’ or if they just don’t want to try and ‘understand’? Surely the word ‘try’ and ‘understand’ must go together, especially in ELT. I had a great example of this in my lesson today. The lesson involved ‘understanding’ and simplifying what looks, at first glance, like quite an intimidating text. I had some low level classes that, today, were feeling highly motivated, and they dealt with the text as they were asked, in groups, simplifying the key messages in a form that a first grade middle school student could understand perfectly. But, I also had a high level class that were lethargic and for some reason feeling particularly unmotivated. This class were constantly claiming they could not ‘understand’ the text and claiming that this lack of ‘understanding’ was good reason for not completing the task to their ability.

The difficulties this word creates don’t only stop in the classroom though. Recently 1000’s of native English teachers in Korea lost their jobs, the reason given? A government administered survey of high school and middle school students indicated that Korean students can’t ‘understand’ the native English teachers properly or as well as their Korean teachers. Huh? Yep that’s right; students can’t understand native speakers so the solution is to remove the native speakers. ‘Welcome to Korea’ as they say!

Lack of understanding certainly has a negative connotation in the world of teaching. So, when my co-teacher informed me last week that she thought that some students didn’t fully ‘understand’ my classes this year and that, to find out for sure, she wanted to give students a survey containing the following question, ‘how much of English conversation class did you understand this year?’ to which the students could mark a number from 1 to 10, I wasn’t exactly pleased.

It wasn’t the fact that she thought some students didn’t ‘understand’ the class, I mean I have some students who have lived in America for ten years and some who can’t write their name in English, they can’t all understand everything. What bothered me was the question and establishing what exactly we were hoping to achieve by asking it. There are just too many variables, are we asking whether or not students understood:

– everything I said
– every word in the videos we used in class
– the meaning contained in the materials
– instructions
– how and when to use vocabulary items
– why we were doing the activities we were doing
– how they could use the skills practiced outside of class
– my British accent
(to name just a few)

Don’t get me wrong, if students who should understand my classes are struggling I need to know about it, and I need to know what I can do to change this, but the problem is, how do we objectively measure this?

We also have to consider whether or not a lack of understanding is a bad thing. If students understand everything, will they improve? If students end the class not understanding everything, will they be disheartened? Will they feel let down by their teacher? To take my class today as an example, there is no way every student (or even most students) would understand every word in the text. It was a difficult task, but I didn’t want them to understand every word and every sentence. I wanted them to understand the general meaning, a task they ALL completed successfully, even the low level students. So would they give me a 3 or an 8 out of 10 on the ‘scale of understanding’ for today’s class? Probably a 3!

This is due to another factor we have to consider, educational culture. My students are used to having every word they see and hear translated to them. In Korea this is seen as ‘understanding’. But do they understand it? If we had spent 50 minutes doing that today would they have understood the meaning of the text? Probably not, but what score would today’s lesson have got on the ‘scale of understanding’? Probably an 8! They would probably have given it a higher score than my lesson today, are they wrong to do so? Not necessarily, both these types of understanding certainly do have an effect on our students’ language abilities though.

Of course, I think the task I gave my students was significantly more useful than having the text translated to them, but what use is that if our students are leaving the classroom feeling the opposite due to their 13 years of a certain educational culture that has made them believe they didn’t ‘understand’ it? As teachers should we have to adapt to our students beliefs on understanding? Should we even adapt to our educational institutions beliefs? The only way to find out about their beliefs is to measure their reactions to certain tasks or certain classes, but this brings us back to problems regarding how we measure it.

Understanding is certainly a word that we use often enough, it’s a word which can have huge consequences for us and our students, but, as language teachers do we really have the firm grasp on it we think we have and perhaps should have when dealing with our students as individuals, with our classrooms as a whole or even as a national and global industry? I certainly think I have some work to do in conveying to my students and institution what I want the word ‘understanding’ to mean.

You can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

A must read comment from a friend:


Hi Alex,

A great post here. Thank you much for sharing. I too feel the strain and frustration of fighting the prevailing headwinds. I really like the questions you have asked here and wish you all the luck in successfully querying your institution. I too am following suit.

In times like these it is easy to get frustrated. It is at these times that I try and remind myself that if no one tries to change anything then certainly nothing will change. However, if I put myself out there and voice my opinion, I may not see the change myself, but the effect of those words on the people I share with will ripple on the lake of time. Who knows where and when things begin to change, or why?

As long as there are teachers like you out there pushing the limits and questioning themselves, their students, and their institutions, I truly believe, in the end, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

John

My Reply:

John,

You couldn’t be more right and I don’t think you could have put it any more succulently. I can only hope that we are moving in the right direction. To be honest, frustration isn’t really the feeling I have, but more hope, hope that despite the students and institutions in which we work being so firmly ingrained with a certain idea and concept of understanding, we may still be starting that ripple you mention, a ripple that will hopefully continue to grow in our students’ minds. I don’t necessarily think it is about replacing the current forms of thinking that we encounter on a daily basis, but perhaps adding to those and presenting alternatives that they can also use to their benefit at the same time as their current conceptions and ways of thought.

Cheers to hope,

As always thanks for reading and for your invaluable input.

Alex

Comments

DK
28/11/2012 04:13

Great post! I find myself asking this of my students quite often, but I think for the most part it is mostly out of habit. Usually when I want to ellicit some sort of reaction rather than feel like I’m shining a spotlight on a herd of deer.

For the most part their reaction to the question is enough to judge whether or not they really grasp the concept, ranging from a resounding “yes teacher” to hesitant nods and grunts of assent, which make me want to shake them and say “No you don’t! Why are you nodding!” 🙂

It is much more effective when I question them in order to demonstrate that they understand something, rather than simply asking if they do, for exactly the reasons you poiinted out. Saying they understand is an easy way out and often students will say this to avoid drawing attention to themselves, looking stupid in front of their peers, or having to try and explain what it is they don’t understand.

By allowing them to deomonstrate their understanding t, it allows both the teacher and the student to see that they really do understand, and at the same time it builds their confidence. If it is a grammar concept, I do some problems on the board together, if it’s the instructions for an activity, I ask them what to do after step 1, etc

I agree that the idea of asking students how much they understand in the class as a means of rating the teacher or evaluating the effectiveness of a class is a bad idea. Good for general feedback, sure, but not in order to determine whether or not to keep a native teacher on or to, say, replace them with a robot. We need to have effective ways of assessing their improvement, which is the main focus of education. It’s not just about how much you understand in a class, but how much more you can understand because of a class.

Reply
AlienTeachers
28/11/2012 17:34

Hey ‘DK’!

First of all thanks for reading and thanks even more for commenting 🙂 I think your mention of students trying to deflect any potential attention is extremely important, especially in the context in which we work. The students will do anything to not stand out from their friends, including pretending the other do or don’t understand when it suits them!

I also think you have provided a wonderful conclusion when you said “It’s not just about how much you understand in a class, but how much more you can understand because of a class.” I guess the only problem with this is that we have to help our students realise what it is that we want them to understand as it’s not always obvious.

Thanks again for reading and commenting,

Alex

Reply
28/11/2012 17:59

Hi Alex,

A great post here. Thank you much for sharing. I too feel the strain and frustration of fighting the prevailing headwinds. I really like the questions you have asked here and wish you all the luck in successfully querying your institution. I too am following suit.

In times like these it is easy to get frustrated. It is at these times that I try and remind myself that if no one tries to change anything then certainly nothing will change. However, if I put myself out there and voice my opinion, I may not see the change myself, but the effect of those words on the people I share with will ripple on the lake of time. Who knows where and when things begin to change, or why?

As long as there are teachers like you out there pushing the limits and questioning themselves, their students, and their institutions, I truly believe, in the end, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

John

Reply
29/11/2012 03:37

Alex,

I taught in the U.S. for 4 years (chemistry, not English) and you bring up some excellent questions. One thing emphasized in our school system was having a daily goal (or goals) posted prominently in the room for each lesson. I started each class by calling attention to the objective, and then at the end I would ask the students to perform some measure of that goal.

For example, in the lesson with the complex text you mentioned, you may have had the objective be something along the lines of “students will accurately summarize a complex text.” At the end of the lesson, you could emphasize that goal by asking students to fill out a “ticket to leave” which is written on an index card or half sheet of paper (the task is presented on the board or instructions given orally and the students write their responses on their tickets). In this example, the ticket to leave might be “use 1-3 sentences to summarize the text we read in class today.” When students hand in their “tickets to leave” they may then start packing up their things to get ready for the next class or lesson. In this function, the TTL also serves as a transition and class management tool.

Granted, the students may have already done something similar as part of the lesson, but it never hurts to re-emphasize the important objectives. Collecting the tickets also gives you another assessment tool so that YOU can rate how successful you think the lesson was and learn for the next round. You can also gather quantitative data a little more easily when you have those tickets and can simply do a quick read through and say that x% of the students successfully met the objective (or not).

Ultimately, the task at hand really comes down to clearly defining your lesson objectives for every lesson and then coming up with some way to measure the success, neither of which is a simple matter!

Julie

Reply
29/11/2012 03:39

I forgot to emphasize the importance of the word “summarize.” Using specific action verbs in your goals helps to avoid the nefariously nebulous “understand.”

Reply
AlienTeachers
06/12/2012 18:53

Hi Julie!

Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment (and sorry for my delayed reply, it’s exam time next week so a bit busy!)

I think your ticket to leave idea is a fantastic one, I’m going to give it a go at the end of a class before the end of the semester to see how it goes and figure out the best way to implement it next year. Did you do it in every single class so as to create a routine among the students?

Thanks again,

Alex

AlienTeachers
06/12/2012 18:55

Hi again Julie!

Forgot to respond to your action goals in the objectives. I like to use Bloom’s Taxonomy of Measurable Verbs (http://www.clemson.edu/assessment/assessmentpractices/referencematerials/documents/Blooms%20Taxonomy%20Action%20Verbs.pdf) which I am sure you know of, it definitely helps to make sure lesson objectives are clear and measurable.

thanks again,

Alex

Reply
Georgeanna
29/11/2012 06:57

@Julie
great idea! I like the idea of a Ticket to leave, and if I had younger/less proficient students (as I teach mostly English courses), I would do that. One thing I’ve done (which is..somewhat similar) is to have students in my MS Office skills course produce a file at the end of each day which must be emailed to me. (They are required to ask for an extension if they couldn’t finish during class time.) Unfortunately, I don’t get to review _all_ of the files (as in, every single class days’ worth of files, just some of the class days’ files). I haven’t thought of what might be done for other classes, but I think I’d like to incorporate something!

In a somewhat related sense, I have students (in all my courses) fill out a status report (which is handed in at the beginning of class.. a handy way to get attendance and also…keep reading :D). It asks them to fill out the current ‘task’ we’re working on (since usually tasks or projects are on-going) and their current ‘status’ on that task or project. It is a way for me to get feedback (of ‘understanding,’ too!) and answer questions they may not have asked before. Of course, here too, I have people in class asking their friends, “What task are we working on?” (sniff sniff…guess they didn’t ‘understand’)

in response to the original post…
I am reminded of a conversation with a teacher trainer here in Daegu who mentioned a class (as in, time) when they tried to call attention to their participants’ (i.e. the teachers being trained) use of the phrase “This is difficult, but…” which was so often used to introduce tasks or activities (when the teachers were doing practice teaching sessions). I would like to link (or point out the link that exists to connect) this to the whole mess surrounding “understanding” because surely if teachers are _telling_ you that something is going to be difficult, you’re already somehow losing points on the ‘understanding’ scale (or, your possibilities for ‘understanding’ and ‘success’ have now been lowered).

I am …baffled, to say the least…that people would do this. I admit I have done it a few times myself!! (If my poor memory serves me correctly, not in the last year or two, thankfully!)

The concept of translating every word (missing the forest for the trees) in an effort to ‘understand’ something peeves me greatly. I try to hard in my reading courses to wean students off of that. Using literature circles to discuss their reading does help them sort of wean themselves, too. But, that’s a digression..

I wish you the best of good fortune, patience, and great results in your efforts to resolve this issue/address it. Look forward to hearing more insights!

Reflections on a Lack of Composure

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Last week I had an incident with a student that, not only was I extremely disappointed with myself for at the time, but has continued to trouble me since.

What Happened?

I was conducting a lesson in which the students were asked to analyze cultural differences they perceive between Korean and Western (more like American/British realistically) culture. One of the tasks asked the students to work in pairs and imagine they were a native English teacher just arriving in Korea, what difficulties do they think they might encounter in their first month in Korea?

All of the students accepted this really quite difficult challenge, except one girl (let’s call her May), who simply wrote ‘nothing’. When I asked May about why she had only written ‘nothing’ she replied ‘because Korea is perfect’. At this point I should have questioned May more about this, perhaps I could have personalised the situation, asked May what things she thinks I might find difficult, ask her if there is anything at school I might find difficult, explained that doesn’t mean it is a bad aspect of Korean culture, but just something I might find difficult, I should have supported and assisted her. But I didn’t do that, instead I told May that I was extremely disappointed she had that attitude, that every other group had handled the task very maturely and that she might be a bit embarrassed when she hears the feedback from the other groups. I’m sure you now understand why I am very disappointed and surprised by my reaction.

Why Did This Happen?

This is something I’ve thought long and hard about, as it is just not like me. There are two things I think I need to consider here, first of all why didn’t she deal with the task maturely, and secondly why didn’t I handle the situation with more empathy? I think in order to understand this I need to share a bit more context. May is in a class I have a particularly good rapport with, not only this, but May and her friend come to see me and chat with me almost every day, they often bring a small snack for us all to eat together, or sometimes I have a snack we all share. May and her friend are always very mature in the things we discuss, she lived in a native English speaking for a large part of her life, and we like to discuss the differences in the education system and in life in general. Over the 7 months period I have been May’s teacher I have therefore got to know her very well, and she has got to know me very well. Despite this I both hope and believe I have never treated May or her friend with any special consideration or differently to any other student, until this incident.

So why, if May has always been so mature, did she not handle this task maturely? Well, there are a huge number of reasons. She’s a 17 year old girl, she may have argued with her friends and so was feeling down (in retrospect I noticed she wasn’t sitting with her usual friends), she might have had a hard time at home, she might be feeling stressed about mid-terms, it might have been for attention as she knows I don’t like it when students aren’t trying, perhaps other students had teased her about the fact her and her friend often come to see me outside of class, perhaps she didn’t properly understand the task, maybe she really believed there was nothing difficult, the list is endless.

Why didn’t I handle the situation with empathy and understanding, as I normally would have? I think because of how well I know May, and the rapport I have with her, I had higher expectations. I remember when I saw that she had written ‘nothing’ feeling quite shocked and taken aback. When she then repeated this sentiment to me verbally I think I felt both disappointed and let down, I felt let down because of all students to handle the task in this way it was her. Normally I would always give the students the benefit of the doubt, I would presume that they really were just struggling with the concept of the task, but because of how well I know May I knew this wasn’t the case. In other words, because of my relationship with her I treated her differently, more negatively, than I would another student.

What Now?

I guess this is where I would really welcome any suggestions. I really feel like I have let May down. Of course, she may have just gotten over it, she could be upset about it, she could be feeling let down, I’m really not sure. I haven’t seen her since Friday and this week is mid-term exams so I won’t be seeing her class until next Friday. Perhaps I should just let it blow over and learn from my mistake? Perhaps I should speak with May about what happened? Perhaps I should apologise to her? In the past 3 years this is a situation I haven’t found myself in before; it would just be such a shame to allow what happened to affect my rapport with May in the future.

UPDATE


Hi,

first of all thank you so much for all the wonderful comments, support, advice and general positivity!

I was going to replay to each comment indivudally but I figured there was no point writing the same thing over and over, but I really do appreciate all your comments so much.

Anyway, to the point! I decided to speak with the students concerned on Friday after she had finished her last exam. I explained to her I was sorry for the way I reacted and that I felt I should have helped her with the task rather than saying what I did. At first she seemed a little bit shocked, I’m not sure how often she has been apologised to by a teacher in the past! She accepted my apology and told me she was relieved as she thought I was upset with her. We then had a good chat about her exams and other stuff and that was that! Everyone concerned was happy 🙂


Thankyou again for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!

Alex

Comments

Gemma
07/10/2012 18:10

ah I think you’re being a bit too hard on yourself, teachers are only human and bound to come out with natural reactions even if they are not always appropriate or the right reaction.
If I were you I would give May some extra praise / attention in the next class and if she doesn’t react well maybe speak to her and see if anything is wrong.

I know teenage girls r sensitive but I’m sure she’ll forgive you this one time. Looking forward to the next instalment…..

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:11

Hi Gemma,

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Reply
14/10/2012 05:33

Hi Alex, glad to hear you sorted it out and cleared the air. I bet she was surprised to get an apology from a teacher, sure that doesn’t happen often!
Gemma.

07/10/2012 19:12

It’s natural for a good teacher to worry what they did wrong! i had the same thing happen…it was the final day of class with me forever and one nice student was really grumpy and wouldn’t even talk to me. Later I found out she had split up with her boyfriend.

Looking back I think this is the student’s problem, not yours. I don’t know how old she is, but teachers have to try to avoid bringing their problems and homelife into the class, and students should to. It’s not always going to be possible, and it depends on the circumstances but, the students don’t have a right to take out their problems on your class.

I think you handle it just fine to be honest. Don’t blame yourself for everything, you can’t control everything in the classroom. She was in the wrong and if she’s got any sense then she will come and apologize for acting like that.

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:11

Hi!

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Reply
Kristina
07/10/2012 19:19

If May has the experience of arriving in a foreign country to live, then perhaps you could have applied that context to the task. Ask her to think about what difficulties she or her family had when they first arrived in that English speaking place. Or turn it into an activity using CSC and ask student groups to create a poster & presentation of things they think foreigners coming to live in Korea will need to know or learn. They become the teachers by using their English to convey parts of Korean culture to a foreigner.

Like you, I have been here 3 years and feel very integrated into the Korean society. However, through doing this activity with more than 15 classes, I have ALWAYS learned something new, something truly helpful. I bet you will too!

In the meantime, find May and wish her good luck on her mid-terms, and ask her the Korean way to wish others good luck. She still loves you, I’m sure!

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:11

Hi Kristina,

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Reply
Barry Jameson
07/10/2012 20:26

Like Gemma, I think you are being to hard on yourself. Sometimes I have disappointed myself in how I have reacted towards students. I have been worried about how they will react next time they see me. On each occasion, by the time the next class comes round they have forgotten about it. If they were bothered at the time, they have moved on.

My experience of (albeit younger) students is they don’t hold a grudge. If you have built up a rapport, it can’t be ruined by one incident. It may be that she feels bad about her attitude and that she let you down. Who knows? If there is a problem in the next class, then it could be addressed but I imagine it will be fine..

I think the fact that you care, worry and have reflected on this incident reflects on you as a person and teacher.

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:12

Hi Barry,

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Reply
07/10/2012 20:40

Hey Alex,

I think I have something to share here, as I am pretty good at regularly putting my foot in my mouth. 😉

As you have already made clear you have given this a lot of thought and I believe that will help you in the future if a similar situation or feeling arises.

In terms of advice on this particular situation, I always believe it is best to be as open and honest as possible. If it is possible to have a conversation with her, I would explain that I felt disappointed with the way I responded, explain why I reacted that way, and that I now realize that any number of things could have caused her response to my task. I would be blunt and say I should have been more empathetic and will try hard to not make that mistake again.

Then perhaps have a small conversation to find out what exactly was behind her negative response to the task.

It’s a learning moment for you, and perhaps her as well. As we grow, we need to learn that everyone has faults, even the grown ups we respect most. The ones I always respected most, and still do, were always upfront with me about their mistakes. I try to follow suit.

I wouldn’t worry too much. You are a good person and teacher, and one moment can not change that.

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:14

Hi John,

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Reply
Matt Silva
07/10/2012 22:01

I’d normally write you something more personal, although others might benefit from reading the various reaction to this ‘issue’.

I say ‘issue’ because it is not a problem, but an opportunity to turn this scenario into a lesson for both ourselves, and the students.

You have quite accurately collated reasons for the students response, and further time spent pondering will be of little use. However, as you quite rightly point out, your response was maybe, something you didn’t necessarily expect you to give.

First and foremost, it was something between the two parties, and should be dealt with in such a way, and it could help you understand more why she gave such an answer, and therefore enhancing the relationship you already hold. After, and with her permission, I would suggest a class discussion about the subject, but this might raise further conflicts with you relationship with the student, as she might feel you are making an example of her, to the point of fun, (and where the discussion with her would prevent this).

The point of the discussion could be ‘what is perfection?’ so as not to be so brash in suggesting it is of direct consequence to her comment.
It would give the students, who are of a mature enough age to make personal decisions about the world and to formulate their own, credible opinions. It would also help you to understand where they are coming from with their thoughts, and as a class, to learn of other people’s opinions, too.
Listening to others is something I’m afraid my students seem to have little time for, and is indicative of their wider social groups, family, and many cultures as a whole..

What might you have said at that age, and how would you have considered your teacher??
M

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:14

Hi Matt,

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Reply
Lee Lalka
07/10/2012 23:11

I have more than once said or did something to a student or a group of students that I felt later I should have done differently. In every case, I have searched out the student or students and apologized for my actions, explaining to them why I was apologizing and why I did what I did, and what I think now I should have done.

In each case, the students were somewhat embarrassed and a bit shocked that I apologized.

I have grown from each occurrence, and thankfully they rarely happen. My students also seem to have grown as well. They respected what I did (apologize) and the air between us was clear.

I admire you for recognizing something amiss, and looking squarely at it. Most would dismiss it, or not even see that there was a “challenge”.

I wish you the best on becoming,

LJL

Reply
AlienTeachers
14/10/2012 05:15

Hi Lee,

thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.

Kindest Regards,

Alex

Assessment Part 1 – Being Cruel to be Kind!

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Before I start I should point out that what I’m really talking about here is testing in Korea, well actually testing in the two schools I’ve worked at in Korea. However, from discussions with friends working in Korea, and other teachers throughout Asia, it seems like the problem is much more widespread than the school I work in. I should probably also point out that I’m not saying problems with testing are only apparent in Asia, it’s just most of the teachers I talk to on this issue are based in Asia.

O.k. disclaimers over!

In my experience, the problem with testing and assessment here is that it is done purely to receive a score. Students go into an exam, they take the exam (in my case a 2 minute speaking test), they leave the exam, they wait a week, they are given a score and finally they complain or are happy about the score. The students often don’t see the test paper once the final bell rings, no feedback is given, no areas for improvement suggested, they are just ranked and placed on a chart so they can see how well/badly they are doing. If this was just once in a student’s career, for say, entering university, then fine, I could understand, but that’s not the case. This monotonous process seems to be happening over and over and over and over and over. All the way through a student’s school life, they are tested, given a score, ranked and then move on. What the heck is the point? It takes 1 month out of a 7 month time table every year and I just can’t figure out what is being achieved other than forcing students into undue stress.

So the students know they’re failing? But they don’t know why or what parts they are failing.

So a student knows they are doing well? Are they really going to know they are doing well in conversation class by reproducing a script that has likely been written for them?

So a teacher can see where the class needs to improve? All the teachers get is a sheet with students’ scores on.

To improve the students knowledge? The students cram for one week, don’t sleep, regurgitate the knowledge, and then promptly forget it again 24 hours later.

Unfortunately, it seems this has happened so many times that all anyone now cares about is this pointless, meaningless, score! When I introduced the new format of speaking test to my students this semester the negative response from both co-teachers and students was overwhelming because they could not think beyond the test to get a score culture that is so ingrained.

To summarise the issue, the students had always been asked by their conversation teachers to go away, prepare to answer some pre-made questions, go into a room, reproduce the script they had memorized and then get a score. What mostly happened was that the students went away with the questions, the students then went to hakwons or, if their parents could speak English, to their parents, got a script written for them, which they memorized and regurgitated. They were then told they were great at speaking English and everyone was happy! Test done, high scores achieved! This is how it had always been for them and this is how they wanted it.

The speaking test format I suggested involved copying the new NEAT exams that are being introduced by the Korean government. There are 4 types of production questions, the students don’t know the questions before hand and they would only have around 10 seconds to answer. When I explained the format to my co-teachers and students I explained the following benefits:

–          It is good practice for an exam (or similar exam) students will likely have to take in the future.

–          I will provide the students with feedback letting them know exactly what area they need to improve on for future speaking exams.

–          It is actually testing their ability to converse, or at least produce, the English language.

–          To summarize, it is actually useful for them (I think).

I was met with the following objections to changing the format:

–          But asking them to produce language is not fair as it benefits students who have lived abroad.

–          Could you (the student speaking to me) do it in Korean?

–          It’s too hard for them (bear in mind my students are almost the highest level in Korea).

–          Not telling the students the questions before hand means their answers won’t be as good so the average score will be lower.

Both my students and co-teachers were upset by the changes. The thing is, my students are first grade high school. The score does not go on their official record that universities will see and the classes are mixed ability so it doesn’t affect the classes they will be put in but it’s all they can think about. Their score, at this stage, is really quite meaningless. But, no matter how many times I explained the benefits, they could not see the test as a positive experience as opposed to a score giving procedure. From speaking to other educators it seems I’m not alone in struggling against such a test giving culture.

I really think this is such a shame. There are so many positive benefits I believe conducting a speaking test can have for our students, to provide a few:

–          It can be a useful chance to practice exam skills.

–          It can provide feedback on what they need to improve for the ‘real thing’.

–          If provided with informative feedback it can improve confidence.

–          It can inform the teacher what need working on (after just one day of tests I know I need to do more work on prepositions!).

–          If we are really testing our students, and they are successful, they will feel a huge sense of accomplishment. If my students are successful in this test (which I genuinely believe they will be as it is designed for their level) they may really start believing they can converse in English (which they can). I don’t believe students would get the same sense of achievement by regurgitating a script their hakwon teacher wrote for them.

To conclude I think testing in Korea, and from what I understand many other educational systems around the world, really need to start thinking about what they are hoping to achieve with their assessment. We need to consider questions such as: Where are the benefits for the students? Where is the feedback going to come from? What are the students’ achieving? How are they going to achieve it?

If we do this perhaps we can start swinging the test giving culture into a useful experience for all concerned.

I’d really love to hear about other people’s experiences with administering tests, especially if you’ve managed to get students or co-teachers on board with the experience over results philosophy. Also, it would be great to hear about any other ideas for implementing meaningful assessment.

 
Tomorrow I’m going to post how I went about setting up the speaking tests that do, so far, seem to have been quite successful, in other words, my suggestion for implementing a meaningful speaking test (focused on Korea).

Also, you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

http://keltchat.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/all-about-assessment/

In the meantime I recommend checking out the following resources:

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/testing-assessment

http://rhaylagar.hubpages.com/hub/The-Benefits-of-Giving-Exams

http://www.tefl.net/alexcase/tefl/young-learner-exams/

Comments

DK
03/09/2012 09:10

I completely agree with your assessment of any speaking tests that involve only memorizing and regurgitating. These tests do nothing to promote conversational skills, focusing only on pronunciation and clarity of speech (I’m assuming) rather than listening, comprehension, and responding in a timely manner. And to not receive any feedback whatsoever is a complete waste of time.

Teaching at university, I have all my students answer questions chosen at random, based on what they have learned over the course of the semester. They know all the possible question types before hand (approximately 30-40), but they will choose which ones they answer from a cup at the beginning of the test and I give additional bonus follow-up questions. Some find this challenging, but if they are given similar tests in middle school and high school, they would be much better prepared for it and be able to enter university with a far greater ability to express their ideas and opinions than they do now.

There is something broken with a system that thinks challenging students is a bad idea because it will effect their current “high scores”.
Many students in university expect A’s for mediocre work. In Canada I was happy to get above an 80, and to get a 90 or higher was awesome.

I say raise the bar and you will be pleasantly surprised at how many are able to meet and exceed your expectations.

Reply
AlienTeachers
03/09/2012 17:27

Hi DK!

First of all, thanks for your comment, it’s always appreciated. That’s really interesting to hear that you employ similar productive speaking tests at university. I wonder if you meet any kind of resistance from the students when you explain the procedure to them?

I completely agree that by raising the bar and challenging our students people might be pleasently surprised at what they’re really capable of.

Thanks again,

Alex

Reply
ioana
04/09/2012 09:27

hello, Alex!
I partially agree with what you’re saying about assessments.yes, right, for the test papers students just get a score, but it’s essential for them to write correctly. and this is the only possibility we have to check their spelling and partially their grammar. I had some surprises with my high school students. some of them have a good pronunciation, fluency, vocabulary but when it comes to writing they have serious problems. there was such a big difference that I couldn’t believe the test papers belonged to the same students that were able to speak in English for hours. each test paper has more parts and it’s easy both for you and your students to identify where the problems are. though it’s difficult to discuss with each of your students we usually tell them where the problems are. regarding the speaking tests, you’re right, we have to focus on encouraging them to react to some challenges and not just reproduce the phrases they have learn. I tell my students to try using English while speaking to their friends, their colleagues, their penfriends because this is the best possibility to get over their shyness and produce instant messages.

Reply
05/09/2012 03:39

Being cruel to be kind,

Is the same make me feel how we were born under edu-system, with no more applicable at all,
Meanwhile, this article discussed seems what is likely to happen in our country.
Naing

Students, the harshest teacher trainers?

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This semester I decided to compile as much data as possible from my students and co-teachers regarding my performance and effectiveness over the past four months. The results have been invaluable as a tool for my own professional development, but I also believe that, despite the variation in contexts, they can provide some useful tips and insight for other educators too. Here are my reflections on the feedback I received and the lessons I’ve learnt.

I’ve embedded the full document with my students and co-teachers feedback at the bottom of the blog.

My Reflections

The feedback from both my students and co-teachers has been unexpectedly positive, my co-teachers have enjoyed being a part of the lessons and my students seem to have really appreciated the structure of the lessons and my passion for their education. I’ve been overwhelmed by how constructive (both critically and  favourably) and honest their feedback has been, it has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to improve as a teacher.

I’m going to split my reflections into three sections: firstly, I’ll look at things I need to keep doing (that I have started doing and have worked well), secondly, I’m going to consider things I need to start doing and finally, things I need to stop doing!

Things I Need to Keep Doing (I’m going to concentrate here on things I don’t feel I did so well in previous semesters.)

i) Use of Short Films

The student response to the use of short films in class (usually between 1 minute and 10 minutes in length) indicates that students are really enjoying them, that they are seeing the benefit of them and that they have been extremely important a motivating and holding the concentration of my students. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

1) Teenagers now live in a much more visually stimulating world. Everything is on computers or T.V’s, and this is what the students are used to.

2) Some of my classes are very mixed ability. Short films allow my low level students to understand the general gist of what is happening, the information they get visually can help them understand and contextualize the language that is being taught. For my highest level students videos often come with very natural pronunciation and expressions, this presents a great opportunity for them to hear language how it is naturally used and challenges them to pick out language and expressions they wouldn’t find in a text book.

3) Videos allow students to absorb culture as well as language. I find my students genuinely interested in other cultures around the world and video present a great way for them to explore that.

ii) Praising the Students and Displaying Their Work

It has really become apparent to me this year just how important praise is to the students. My girl classes visually show how much they want positive feedback and so it is easy to find opportunities to provide them with positive feedback and praise. At this age boys can’t really be seen to desire positive feedback from the teacher, I think this is especially apparent if the teacher is male. This means it is harder to find opportunities to provide them with positive praise and feedback. From the student feedback it seems I have done this successfully with my first grade boy classes, but not my second grade boy classes. The classes are much larger and the boys are naturally much louder and more boisterous, so it is harder to find opportunities. Next semester I really need to actively find opportunities to provide them with positive feedback.

We’ve done two activities this semester purposely designed to give the students opportunities to make some really great work that can be displayed all over the class. The feedback shows the students have both acknowledged and appreciated this. Other than this feedback I have noticed the students really taking a keen interest in other classes’ work that is displayed around the room. It seems to have created a kind of competition between the classes.

iii) Having Clear Rules

Although I have the same rules this semester as last semester, I am working at a different school that provides more levels of support when enforcing rules. This semester has shown just how important the support of the institution is in enforcing rules. As an example, last year if a student walked into class 5 minutes late eating cake nothing was done about it, although I disciplined them, the institution itself took no interest in this. This semester there are clear consequences, both from myself and the institution, regarding the consequences of a student’s actions. It has become very clear how important having your institution on your side regarding discipline is.

iv) Catering to Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles

Something that has been made absolutely clear in the feedback from the students is the variety of learning styles and preferences the students have. The students indicated that they recognized the use of many different forms of activities, but when asked what they would like more/less of next semester and what they enjoyed/didn’t enjoy, other than wanting more short films, there was a huge variation. For me, this clearly shows the importance of providing students with a range of activities and stimuli in order to keep all students motivated and interested in class.

Things I Need to Start Doing

i) Giving Students More Time to Complete Activities

Although the students rated me favorably for this it was still one of my lowest scores, and I have to say that on reflection I absolutely agree with them. For the majority of the semester I was at conflict with my institution. They wanted me to teach key expressions every class, I wanted to teach skills. This meant I was trying to fit both into a 50 minute period and the classes felt a bit too rushed. I’ve now reached a compromise with my school; we are going to have spread topics over two classes, meaning half the compulsory amount of expressions and more time for skills. This will hopefully result in the classes being less rushed. It’s amazing just how observant and sensitive the students are to issues such as this.

ii) A Better Introductory Lesson

I started at a new school this semester and my directives were to start teaching my syllabus from the very first class. They asked me to only take up 10 minutes for introductions etc. and I used this time for making the rules of the classroom clear and introducing myself. I think this was a mistake and something I should have strongly objected to. The students have shown in their feedback that they weren’t sure exactly what they were supposed to achieve from the course, something that should have been made clear to them in the introductory lesson. Although almost all the classes adapted well I think this could be partially responsible for the behavioral problems one class faced at the beginning of the semester. Quite simply they weren’t sure why they were there. This is a mistake I won’t be making again.

iii) Explaining the Reason behind Activities

On reflection something I hardly did this semester is tell students why we were doing the activities we were doing, what skills were we practicing, what could they achieve from the activity, how is it useful for them in real life etc. This is shown in the relatively low score for ‘providing students with opportunities to practice creative thinking, divergent thinking and critical thinking’. Although I strongly believe these skills were practiced in almost every class I didn’t make the students aware of this. This is definitely something for me to bear in mind next semester.

Things I Need to Stop Doing

i) Compulsory Homework

Feedback from the students is quite clearly against homework, and on reflection I think they might be right!

Why am I giving them homework? The honest answer is ‘I’m not sure.’ Maybe because it’s what my teacher did when I was at school, maybe because I want them to see my class is serious, maybe it just felt right.

What did I achieve from it? Probably not much, the students who wanted to do it did it, and I hope gained from it (it was usually to interview someone, in English, on the topic we had done in class), but by forcing students to do it who didn’t want to meant that all they were probably doing was either copying their friends answers or making it up. Next semester I will make students aware of the reasons for doing the homework, but make it optional. This will also mean I have fewer to grade and so can do a more thorough job.

ii) Presuming I Can Motivate 2nd Grade Boys with Stamp Sheets!

The 2nd grade boys have made it very clear to me this semester they really don’t care about stamp sheets (a technique that works very well with my other classes). So, I’m going to have to think of something new, something sports related. At this point I’m not sure what, but I have a month to figure it out! For me this was a really clear reminder that we teach students, not lessons, and all students have different needs we must adapt to.

Notes

i) This is the first time I have performed such an extensive self evaluation and the amount I have learnt from it has been invaluable. I wasn’t required to do it by my school or regional office, and it took a lot of time to put together all the data, but I highly recommend doing it. The main reasons I have never done this before is firstly, because I’ve never been required to do it, and secondly, because I was nervous that the feedback might be negative. However, I really encourage teachers to do this once or twice a year as you will be surprised how much you will learn, both about what your co-workers and students appreciate in your work, and what you can improve. In terms of professional development, it seems essential.

ii) The low score for the ‘level of the exam was appropriate’ is something I haven’t mentioned as it is not something I had much (or any) control over. The results of that question have been fed back to the institution I work and it is something that we are going to work closer together on next semester to rectify.

If you took the time to read this I really hope it was useful for you. I would love to hear any comments regarding these reflections, especially if you’ve got any tips for motivation 40+ 17 year old boys 😉

You can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

Comments

Gemma
08/07/2012 19:27

wow a very brave and honest post! This was really useful for me and probably something a lot more of us should do but are to scared of doing, so well done!

Reply
AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:24

Hi Gemma!

Thanks for the kind comment! If you do feel like doing something similar just let me know, you’re welcome to use the form I created.

Sorry for the late reply, just back from holiday!

Alex

Reply
Iona
04/08/2012 06:52

Fantastic. In my second year of teaching I did a much simpler version of the same thing and I was blown away by what I learned…it was so powerful that I continued it during my teaching career and now use it to have my staff evaluate my performance as Principal. I love your format and will crib some bits from it!

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AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:28

Hi Iona!

First of all I’m sorry for my delayed response, I’ve been away for the past few weeks spending some time with my family!

You’re welcome to use any parts you like, and I couldn’t agree more, this is the first time I’ve done this (in my third year of teaching) and like you I was blown away by how much I learnt and how receptive the students are to what is happening in the classroom!

Thanks for your comment,

Alex

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jorgelina-carlassare
06/08/2012 05:18

Congrats! Excellent ideas! Thanks for sharing them with us!

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AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:29

My pleasure, thanks for reading 🙂

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20/09/2012 20:37

Hey Alex,

This is fantastic, and an excellent example for other teachers to follow. I am more than half way through my second year and have yet to do anything approaching this. It’s not so much because I am afraid of negative responses, as much as it had not come to my attention as to how important and helpful it really can be.

Thank you for showing us that it is integral to our development as teachers.

In addition, I would like to say that your provided example of evaluation gave me many more thoughts about what I do in class and without even asking for feedback can see things I need to improve.

All in all it is more proof that there is no cruising by in this job. If one wants to improve one must truly care about what one does and go at it full steam. You are an exemplary model to follow, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have met you, along with so many other incredible teachers, so early in my career.

Cheers!

John

PS…I will definitely be coming to Seoul, for the conference in October, with a boat load of questions! Would love to take you up on your offer for assistance!

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28/09/2012 02:46

I think the things you covered through the post are quiet impressive, good job and great efforts. I found it very interesting and enjoyed reading all of it…keeps it up, lovely job.

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Nicola Perry
31/03/2013 02:26

I picked this up from the teachingenglish website. I have scooped.it as I think it has some really useful ideas about getting feedback and how to use it. Thanks.

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:47

Hi Nicola, thanks so much for the comment. I will certainly be trying my best to keep it up! Haha, thanks again!

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31/03/2013 04:50

Hi Alex, thank you for sharing with us! I have been using something similar ( a more general type questionnaire) mainly in the higher level classes and I have to admit I always get quite impressed with the results! Something my youngest students really enjoy is the mime game. I give each one of them the name of an animal (they choose) and they try to sound like it 🙂 Every week they choose a different animal so we all have a good laugh and they never forget the name of the animal!

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:48

Hi Ellen, it’s my pleasure, thank you for taking the time to read it! I used to teach very young learners and they also loved the mime game, or anything that got them out of their seats and jumping around for that matter!

Thanks again for reading and especially commenting!

Alex

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Saima Gul
02/04/2013 00:21

You have shared a wonderful experience which can help teachers develop more and make their teaching more effective. As a master trainer I will share your document with teachers of my country’s schools.

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:49

Hi Saima,

thanks for taking the time to comment, it is always appreciated! I really hope it can help other teachers develop.

Thanks again,

Alex

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02/04/2013 06:47

Thanks for sharing, this is something I’ve been contemplating for a while. I’ll certainly be using your experience as a model for developing my own feedback forms.

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Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:51

Hi Abdul,

completely randomly I stumbled upon your blog this morning on the way to work and really enjoyed it! Amazing coincidence! I had no idea until I just clicked on the link you provided with this comment and recognised it.

Anyway thanks for taking the time to comment, I will certainly be returning the favour soon! Do you use twitter?

Alex