Tag 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

Advertisements

Students, the harshest teacher trainers?

Picture
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!

Reply
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

Reply
jorgelina-carlassare
06/08/2012 05:18

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

Reply
AlienTeachers
15/08/2012 01:29

My pleasure, thanks for reading 🙂

Reply
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!

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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!

Reply
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!

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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

Are Current Teacher Training Methods in ESL/EFL a Waste of Time?

This morning I got a text message from a friend attending a ‘teacher training’ conference that resonated with a lot of my experiences with ‘teacher training’:

“guess what? Yet again all the activities they are telling us to do are for high level, motivated kids, what a surprise”

Personally I’ve had very mixed experiences with teacher training, only last week I had a great experience (thanks to @michaelgriffin), but more than its fair share has, unfortunately, been very negative. I feel that ELT as an industry suffers from genuinely believing that there is a ‘best way’ of teaching, and that many of the training courses, such as the CELTA (which I will probably unfairly focus on here as it is the benchmark of entry level teaching qualifications and something I have firsthand knowledge of), compulsory teacher training workshops and ‘assessed lessons’ amplify this problem.

From my experience it seemed to me the entire point of the CELTA and similar courses was to train teachers to teach in a certain way, to lesson plan in a certain way, and to deal with students in a certain way. You are set up with a group of no more than 20 adult students and asked to deliver a lesson that allows the examiner to tick a certain number of boxes and then tell you afterwards in the ‘feedback’ session which boxes you did or didn’t tick and why. Well that’s great and I learnt a lot of great techniques, if for the rest of my career I’m going to be in exactly the same situation. But how about when you leave your one month training course and the teaching methods you’ve been trained to use don’t work? What about if your first job is in a public school with 35 1st grade Korean elementary students? And, what if I didn’t tick those boxes? Does that make me a bad teacher that doesn’t deserve an entry level qualification? I could have a very good reason for wanting to deal with a situation differently to my CELTA instructor, but that wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t have been the ‘CELTA way’, at least this was my experience.

It’s not that I necessarily dislike the CELTA or other similar course, or that I don’t think they teach some excellent techniques for teaching in certain contexts, but it, as all training courses, have a responsibility to make it absolutely clear to the participants that this is ONE way of teaching, not THE way of teaching. These highly regarded qualifications are completely misguiding their customers and the industry in sending them away from the course with the belief they have just learnt the right way to teach, and there is no wonder this misinformed idea is then getting passed on to other training seminars such as the one my friend has attended above and I’m sure almost every other teacher in the industry has attended at some point. For me, what these courses have a responsibility to do is encourage reflective and post-modern practice as being absolutely essential to the teachers’ further development once they leave the course, and this is where they are shirking their responsibility.

Reflective practice encourages teachers to question what they are doing in the classroom and why they are doing it. By doing this it helps teachers find their own answers, become their own expert and develop their own pedagogy to fit their context. Something I’ve really enjoyed about my M.A course (with University of Nottingham) is that it has never suggested that there is a best way to teach, but has challenged us to consider our own teaching beliefs. For me, if a teacher can become competent in reflective practice they will continually develop and improve. I was lucky enough to attend a reflective workshop seminar with Dr. Thomas Farrell last month in which he challenged us to question how we teach and why we teach the way we do, he had us question the very concept of method and even (but this was beyond me) second language acquisition. It helped us draw on all the knowledge we have as teachers, knowledge from our classroom, knowledge from reading blogs, knowledge from training courses, knowledge from research and knowledge from our instincts and experiences to create and continually develop our own pedagogy. We were encouraged to try new things, who cares if they weren’t in a trainers ‘core’ textbook, if it doesn’t work at least you tried it and can learn form it.

I think my feelings and experiences strongly resonate with Kumaravadivelu (2012) when he described the methods such teacher training courses, compulsory workshops and assessed lessons advocate as being’

“non location-specific, not derived from their classroom; it is artificially transplanted into it; it can not be implemented as is”.

We are the only people that really know our true teaching context, and so for me teacher training should be about training ourselves to improve ourselves, it literally drives me mad to be at compulsory workshops such as the one my friend was at today with someone I have never met preaching to me what I should be doing with my students that he or she has never met. I absolutely agree with the work of Kumaravadivelu (2012) and the 5 statements he makes about current teacher training:

a) any meaningful, context-sensitive pedagogic knowledge can emerge only from the classroom;

b) it is the practicing teacher who is well placed to produce and apply that knowledge;

c) current approaches to language teacher education are mostly aimed at preparing teachers to become consumers, not producers, of pedagogic knowledge;

d) the fast evolving global society with its incessant and increased flow of peoples, goods and ideas across the world is placing huge responsibilities on the shoulders of student teachers, practicing teachers and teacher educators; and therefore;

e) we need to re-view and re-vision language teacher education if we are serious about helping language teaching professionals become strategic thinkers, exploratory researchers and transformative intellectuals.
(Kumaravadivelu, 2012).

Do the people that design the CELTA and other similar courses know my students, my school, my materials or the learning goals of my institution? I believe teacher training should concentrate on providing the skills for teachers to create their own pedagogy, not follow that of others. Courses such as the CELTA and compulsory training sessions such as the above can undoubtedly and essentially increase a teachers’ knowledge as to the options available to them as teachers, but they are shirking their responsibility to the industry by failing to inform the participants that this is only one way of doing things, not necessarily the right way of doing things.

What have your experiences of teacher training been? Do you think we need to develop the way we look at teacher training or have I been waaaaaay to harsh? I welcome all comments!

If you like, or I guess dislike, this, you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

01/06/12 – Some minor edits as I feel I had unfairly tarred optional teachers conferences, paid for training courses and compulsory teacher training workshops with the same brush. For me, optional conferences are exactly that, they are a chance for teachers to choose to hear another teachers opinion on a certain topic and learn from that, and as such I should have distinguished them as separate from paid for training courses and compulsory seminars/workshops throughout this blog.

References:
 
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012a) Language Teacher Education for a Global Society: a modular model for knowing, analyzing, recognizing, doing, and seeing. New York/Abingdon: Routledge.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012b) The Word and the World. Marcoele Revisita de Didáctica [online]14: 1 – 9. Available at http://marcoele.com/descargas/14/kumaravadivelu-interview.pdf

Comments

CABS
31/05/2012 04:03

Okay I’ll bite
Firstly I think you miss understand what CELTA tries to do. I often compare it to a learning to drive. In my driving lessons I learnt to reverse around a corner, (a skill I have never used since) but I didn’t learn to drive on a motorway, (a skill I needed to teach myself.)
Initial training courses are exactly like that. Intended to give you an introduction and some basic skills.
Secondly you ask – Do the people that design the CELTA and other similar course know my students, my school, my materials or the learning goals of my institution? and say teacher training is training ourselves to improve This implies to me that teacher training should only come from within one specific environment. It is extremely closed minded and not opening the eyes to other environments we can learn from.
Thirdly i run a lot of teacher training and I admit that when demoing an activity a lot of it is ‘perfect world’ scenario. But I also question the participants and challenge them to think how it is best applied to their own teaching environments.

Reply
31/05/2012 04:58

To answer your comments, I’d first like to address your analogy, when you learn to drive and you pass your test you are made fully aware that you are by no means a fully competent driver, you are expected to display a green P sign (at least in the U.K), I don’t take any issue with the skills that are developed during the CELTA course, I am myself thankful for them and still regularly choose from the knowledge I have of teaching some of those techniques if upon reflection I feel they fit the context.

What I do take issue with is how many courses advocate it as often the best way to teach and thus discourage reflective practice in the future. Teachers need to be trained in how to instantly reflect on what is happening in their classroom at that time. It is certainly a way to teach, and often an effective way to teach, but participants have, in my opinion, to be made aware that there are other methods that may be more suitable and the skills in choosing the said methods be developed. This in turns allows continual professional development throughout their teaching career. In this I find myself in agreement with Tomlinson (2002) that such courses can result in participants either being “so convinced of the value of their new wisdom that they rush back to their schools with revolutionary zeal and unthinkingly impose methods and materials from their in-service course on their bewildered students before having to revert to their “old” approach when the received supply of materials and ideas runs out; OR become total converts to the new approach and fail to see the inappropriacy of some of its aspects to the realities of their teaching situation.”
Tomlinson (2002: n.p.)

Regarding your third comment, I wish you were my trainer during the CELTA course I took many years ago and the many teaching workshops I have attended since, I was told during my course that in absolutely no uncertain terms should I question my CELTA instructor about whether the methods I was being told to use were really the best for the given situation, and one other person on my course was warned that he may be asked to leave for doing so. However I believe that most teacher trainers are in no way like this.

But please don’t get me wrong, I learnt some valuable teaching tools during my CELTA, but I wish they had made me aware there were more out there.

Reply
31/05/2012 05:08

Sorry the comments system knocked off the top of my reply I just posted, I think I need to fix my website a bit!!! Anyway it started like this…..

Hi CABS,

First of all thanks for taking the time to read and post such constructive comments on my blog, it’s much appreciated.

Reply
31/05/2012 04:40

I’m taking CELTA this summer to open my eyes a little. I’m not new to teaching obviously but I think it’s about time I got some criticism from people that want me to present material in a different way to hoe I normally would– I know I need better CCQ awareness, I’m also taking CELTA outside of Korea where I can’t rely on my Korean crutch in the classroom when my teacher talk gets lost in translation.

Reply
31/05/2012 04:46

(comment box is not mobile friendly…)
My experiences with teacher training have been varied.
– My undergrad TESOL was vague but allowed freedom and constructive feedback.
– My grad school primary education was rather more rigid and I disagreed with a lot of the rigidity and lack of freedom to conduct leasons how we see fit… I gather this was because I marginally experienced so ‘thought’ I knew what was best….

Reply
31/05/2012 04:49

– My masters program was basically a full-time version of the Farrell workshop… so, you can imagine having a close network to question you and bounce ideas off everyday.. best educational experience of my life!

Andee
31/05/2012 04:51

Oh, and I learnt to reverse around a corner and drive on a motorway during driving lessons, and use them both almost daily 🙂

Reply
31/05/2012 05:13

Hi Andee!

Really nice to have a teacher of your experience commenting here mate!

I completely agree in that I think most teachers have had mixed experiences, I think a lot of it might depend on the trainer involved. During your CELTA you might have an instructor that encourages questioning why he advocates the use of certain methods for certain contexts. Unfortunately mine very much didn’t!

Regarding the M.A I completely know where you’re coming from, when mine finishes I’m going to feel completely lost to be honest, I might ask if I can retake and the other optional modules! Despite my rant above I’m also strongly considering doing the DELTA as I’ve heard good things about it.

I hope you weren’t reversing round a corner from a minor to a major?!

Reply
Jason
03/06/2012 19:49

Hey Alex,

This is Jason, living here in Malaysia. I remember well when we did our CELTA together. I thought that I was coming out of that program ready to tackle the world. But on first opportunity….useless!! Well, I shouldn’t say that. The CELTA method is for what you described, the “dream scenario.” I’m now doing teacher training myself here in Malaysia and agree 100% that reflective practice is needed. Many of teachers have no idea why they do things, they only know that’s what’s expected of them.

Great blog and observations!

Jason

Reply
06/06/2012 16:46

Hi Jason,

It’s great to hear from you mate! I had exactly the sentiments upon leaving our CELTA course, and I also agree that when I entered a Korean high school classroom most of it was quite honestly useless for my context.

How are you enjoying Malysia? There is a possibility that I might be looking to leave Korea in the next year or so, so I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say about it. Maybe you drop me an email? walshy210284@gmail.com.

Really nice to hear from you,

Alex

Reply
Manpal
14/06/2012 22:01

Teacher training workshops by nature be can’t be very specific since teachers are coming from different schools and no two teaching contexts are exactly alike. I think the problem may lie with how the teacher trainer presents his/her ideas to the workshop participants. If they show an activity and say “this is an awesome activity and you should do it this way” then I agree they are at fault.

Teacher trainers would serve their audience better by showing some activity/method/technique, discuss why it can work well and also disclose some potential pitfalls, and then get the participants to discuss variations on how they could adapt and use the ideas in their particular teaching contexts.

For your friend who said:

“guess what? Yet again all the activities they are telling us to do are for high level, motivated kids, what a surprise”

I would say “Ok, do you have low level, unmotivated students? How do you think you could adjust the activities to make it possibly work in your classrooms?”

Many people say they are “adaptable” in job interviews… perhaps they should prove it in teacher training sessions.

I agree that reflection is lacking in many teacher training courses around the world (particularly CELTA). I wish more administrators would see the benefit of reflection and make it an integral part of their programs.

I can understand the frustrations of going to teacher training workshops and feel it was a waste of time. I’ve been there before as well. But if we truly believe in reflection, we don’t we try to be uber reflective and reflect on how we take the trainer’s ideas and mold them into something viable for our own teaching contexts?

By the way… in case you were wondering I saved Michael Griffin’s career.

Reply
14/06/2012 22:45

Hi Manpal,

First of all thanks for such a specific and constructive comment.

I believe we are thinking on very similar wavelengths here. Regarding the teacher training workshops, the one I have had with my current employer (who you know) used a process very similar to what you have described, and it was very productive. Unfortunately, my experiences with my previous employers (who you also know!), which was the same employer as who organised the workshop my friend was attending, did not provide such opportunities for reflection on how they can make the activity useful for their context.

Often such workshops are for entry level teachers who may not be aware of the benefits of, or trained in the skills needed for, reflective practice. For me, this makes it the responsibility of the trainer/employer to guide the participants into reflecting on the ideas being shared with them.

Regarding the CELTA and other similar courses, something I’ve found very interesting is that a lot of them (including the CELTA) claim to be reflective due to the nature of the ‘feedback’ sessions. For me, this isn’t the true nature of self reflection, as, in my experience it was forced reflection to try and say the right things to the trainers who often encourage a certain way of teaching and thinking. I was wondering what you think about such courses claiming to be reflective in nature?

Oh and just so you don’t have to worry about him, I’m saving Michael Griffin’s career as we speak, someone has to!

Reply
30/07/2012 22:54

I have read the article, and I want to say thanks to you for exceptional information. You have provided deep and easily understandable knowledge to us.

Reply
Russ
13/09/2012 04:18

If you can get hold of swan’s article “why we need methods” you might enjoy it.

Reply
AlienTeachers
25/09/2012 19:53

Hi Russ,

first of all thanks for the taking the time to read my blog and also thanks for the recommendation, I’m going to try and find it now,

Alex

Reply
Siow Chin
20/09/2012 08:43

You are speaking my language! Recently, my school went into this ‘revolution’ of teaching method and our current methods are being viewed as outdated. I am utterly puzzled by this expiry date issue of teaching method.

I totally agree with you on reflective practice. This is definitely one of the most effective ways of improving our teaching. Our audience changes constantly and not one method we can apply exactly the same way. Only through our own reflection can we realise the actual need of our teaching.

Interesting to note that you did your masters with University of Nottingham. That is what I am currently doing and struggling. I started my course in June this year at the Malaysia campus. After 20 odd years of absence from academic study, I am struggling to complete my first assignment mainly due to the horrific workload caused by the ‘revolution’ in school. My biggest difficulty is finding and reviewing literature. Again, I asked myself if this is really what I want to do as I find it very theoretical. From your positive remarks about the course, perhaps, you could give me some advice regarding this.

Thanking you in advance.

Reply
AlienTeachers
25/09/2012 19:58

Hi Siow Chin,

That’s really interesting regarding your institutions decision, did they back it up with a reason or evidence as to why they thought the current methods are ineffective?

Regarding the M.A, I haven’t quite finished yet, but ye at the beginning I also really really struggled with time management and lack of practice with formal academic writing etc. I have to say it has got much easier now, so hang in there! I’m on my last optional module before starting the thesis and I actually find it quite relaxing these days which is a huge change to how I felt in the first couple of units/modules.

Regarding the theoretical side of it, again, I felt exactly the same as you at the beginning of the course, I’m very practical in the way I think about teaching and the way I think we should speak about teaching, I don’t see SLA as an answer to our classroom problems, and this did bother me, but it does get more reflective in nature, although it would have liked a more practical side to the course myself.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I would love to know more about your situation at your institution,

All the best,

Alex

Reply

Really very good and I appreciate it. It’s hard to sort out between good and bad sometimes; you write very well which is amazing. I really impressed by your post.

Reply
20/10/2012 04:18

Thanks for your interesting post. I agree that initial training such as CELTAs may be problematic in many ways, but I’m not sure to what extent this is due to lack of reflection. I mean, it seems to me your friend reflected on the teacher training session he received – that it wasn’t for him / low level learners. Is that ‘good’ reflection or not? I don’t know. I also find the quote from Tomlinson amusing becuase, although I actually agree with some of his views on materials, he always strikes me as quite a dogmatic and self-referential writer. Is his beef simply that the ‘new wisdom’ that is imposed is not his own?! What would an initial training which encourages divergent reflection look like – especially when the teaching practice is in one context (for which presumably the chosen pedagogy works) and where trainees have limited knowledge of ELT? These are genuine questions which I’m trying to find an answer as I’ve been developing an alternative course to CELTA myself. At the moment I’m wondering if we should just abandon the idea of reflection and just me more upfront that a) this is one way, though it’s shared by others and b) be clear on the rationale which may be later challenged.
In contrast, for me the biggest issue with these four-week courses is that they persist with a grammar-dominant view of language and consequently they don’t teach enough about giving good examples of vocabulary in use, noticing patterns, asking questions to students that generate more language etc. This is compounded by both the shortness of the course itself and of the individual lessons which inevitably lead trainees to be reluctant to engage with students and language.
However, even if we had courses that were better at this, the real, real problem is not with the initial training course, but with the schools who believe that a four-week course is sufficient training. Cambridge makes clear that a pass grade at CELTA (approximately two thirds of the candidates) means that teachers require further training and support: they are NOT independent teachers. Yet how many receive that support?

Reply
Khudri
14/11/2012 08:12

Well said! Of course, we can’t deny that every one of us would have totally different classroom environments and students. Because of this, there’s definitely NO best teaching method. But yeah, we’re from Gen-Y (I’m 26). So, I can imagine learning reading comprehension in secondary school (for example) would be very boring when my teacher would ask the whole class to read for 5 minutes and find the answers. From my observation in a few schools and universities, teachers would apply conventional methods to teach, mostly chalk-talk. Well, no. It should be marker pens and talk. I realized something bad about myself – I could see myself doing it! So I chose ‘teaching reflection practice’ for my M.Ed.‘s project paper to ‘repair’ myself.
OK, maybe schools or other learning institutions nowadays already have their own evaluation system or something like that. But, the way I experienced it, it’ll just become another habit in a day’s work. Teachers would fill in the progress reports/analysis/etc. at the end of the day/week and do nearly nothing to improvise. Another factor would be Malaysian school system is highly exam-oriented. So, improvisations will only take place during the intense preparations for exam-taking skills rather than proper L2 skills. So I came up with my own reflection checklist, fill them up and analyze them every time I ended my classes, and construct countermeasures for my problems a.s.a.p. I’d ask for help from my colleagues and not from conferences or trainings, simply because ONLY WE KNOW how our students are like. Just like how you stated it.
That is why for now; I’d definitely incorporate the use of technology in my classes whenever possible because they love it! It’s the most suitable countermeasure so far. They would instantaneously pay attention/think critically/engage in discussions the moment I ask them to take out their handphones to be described with adjectives or used with verbs/tenses, or compare-contrast on two latest models of laptop to initiate academic argumentative skills, or discuss about the latest Japanese comics’ (scanned-and-translated manga) development, or even if it means only a minute or two of browsing/skimming the highlighted news at Yahoo.com. They hate books and speaking out loud in class; I don’t blame them. I can’t blame them, in fact. Maybe it’s a family/tradition thing, culture/religion thing, personality thing, who knows. I don’t have the time to do research on every student comprehensively. So the best way is to do research on myself.
p/s: Don’t really know about other countries, but most Malaysian teachers who came out from national teacher training colleges will definitely use conventional methods. This is because one of the compulsory requirements to become a lecturer in these colleges is they must have at least 5 years of teaching experience in government schools. Say you taught in universities for years, you have Master or PhD, but you had never taught in a government school for full 5 years, then you won’t be accepted. Simply put, the conventional cycle doesn’t end. Most teacher trainees are hardwired with conventional methods passed down from the conventional ex-teachers in teacher training colleges.

Reply
26/12/2012 03:38

Hi Alex,
And here I was thinking I was the only one ranting and raving… especially in my “left to hang” and “empty vessel” posts. Diverting from plans and what one is taught is kinda frowned upon. And in my course, nothing about CPD or Reflective practice was mentioned at all. I enjoyed the course more than I enjoyed learning to drive 🙂 but still lots can be done to update and improve the programme (mentioned in my empty vessel post and subsequent comments).
Cheers,
Chiew

Reply
31/12/2012 02:56

Hello Alex,

Great post. Thanks so much for the mention as well. That workshop seems like it was ages ago. I guess it was. I now noticed there are lots of great comments here so I worry that I don’t have much to add.

As you know, I was not a super satisfied CELTA customer. I think part of it came from the idea that the trainer knew and had “the way” of teaching and our job was to follow and discover this way.
(I fully realize that not all CELTA courses are like this or that all trainers are like this. That was my experience. As you know, I felt that questioning this way (which I know believe is a great way to learn) caused me to be perceived in a less than favorable way.

This is actually one of the reasons that I am such a believer in the SIT TESOL certificate (permit me to share a link? http://www.sit.edu/graduate/6882.htm

I think it is wonderful that reflection is at the core of the course.

I think you have already seen this article but a lot of it hit home with me http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3242/1/WRAP_Mann_2_Copland_Ma_Mann_rev.pdf

Anyway, I think that part of what you were talking about is the problem of trainers (or presenters) presuming to know the way and trying to pass on this knowledge wholesale to trainees/audience members. Of course there is a a lot more to it!

I also think that the idea of simply sharing activities in workshops is problematic in this regard as well..

Ok I will stop there before it becomes 2013.

Thanks so much for the insightful blog posts throughout the year.

Cheers,
Mike

PS1- That interview with Kumar is great. Thanks for sharing.
PS2- I didn’t manage to find the article that Russ mentioned. (Did you?)
PS3- Nice alien logo. Very nice.

Reply
Kate
21/04/2013 09:49

OMG i’m sooo glad to have come across your page. Okay, I gotta calm down here.
I have had exactly the same feelings and opinions. I’m doing Tesol, and now i’m in the TP part and I’ve decided to call it a day. While I had enjoyed the methodology part, I think it gives me more options and more variety of different ways to teach, but if you ask me to follow exactly the procedures of each lesson type, to ‘perform’ the checkpoints for the sake of the checkpoints- I just can’t do it- I feel so artificial and forced on a personal level as a teacher. Tesol is based on idea of SLA, and who says SLA is unquestionable? Anyhow, thank you for your article. I’m glad I read it now I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

If You Don’t Ask You Don’t Get! Embracing The Small Changes

Yesterday I had a frustrating day, I was tired after a long weekend, my class didn’t go well and I felt at conflict with my school regaPicturerding what my students should focusing on in my English class. Today, in comparison, has been a dream! Alright maybe not a dream, but certainly a success! Some small changes with some big effects have been made that I have learnt a lot from, and I would like to share them as I think they could help deal with problems all teachers have faced, are facing or will face at some point!

Change 1 – Dealing with my lesson planning

The Problem:

To give some context, my students are currently doing a lesson that involves learning some key expressions (more about this later!), the main task was to listen for the expressions in a video and put the sentences containing the expressions in the order they heard them. They were then asked to match the expressions with their meaning using the context of the sentences they had in front of them and what they saw in the video. Before the task we drilled the expressions so they could recognize the pronunciation, and then went into the video, checked their ordering and students tried to match the expressions with their meanings using the context of the sentences and what they had seen in the film to help them. When it came to the students matching the expressions with their meanings I got that feeling that awful feeling teachers get when they know something just isn’t working as planned. After the class I figured there must be some kind of problem with the structure of the lesson for the students not to understand the context of the expressions, when really we didn’t think they should be able to. My co teacher and I spent a good hour trying to rearrange the activities, we thought about changing the order of activities, removing activities, or even introducing new ones to help with the scaffolding, but nothing seemed to us as any better than what we had. We ended up making no changes as we didn’t see how we had time in the lesson to introduce more activities that could provide any more support than we already had.

The Change:

When I came to work this morning I still couldn’t figure it out, and then during the first class I made a tiny change. A student asked me a question during the video part that resulted in me pausing the video and rewinding it to let them rehear what was said, which gave me an idea. After each expression was said, I paused the video, asked the students what they heard, and rewound the video 30 seconds so they could hear and see it in the context again, and voila, this simple change had allowed even my lowest level students to be able to understand the contexts and match the expressions with their meanings after the video. The difference in level of understanding was massive. On reflection I can see that this provided them with the extra level of context during the film, especially by rewinding and giving the students another chance to listen and see the expression being used.

The Realisation:

Perhaps this was something a more experienced teacher would have done automatically, but I didn’t want to ruin the flow of a fantastic short film. But it got me thinking, how often, when that lesson I thought was perfectly planned but didn’t flow as expected, could I have just made a minor tweak to it and fixed the problem? Often, no matter how meticulous our planning is, lessons just don’t flow how we expect, when this happens I suggest we start off looking at the little things we can change. Often the structure of our lessons are probably fine, we are professionals at what we do after all, and perhaps with just a little tweak things will just come together. It also serves as another stark reminder as to the importance of scaffolding, but that’s something for another blog.

Change 2 – Dealing with my Institution (sorry, this is turning into a really long blog!)

The Problem:

Again, to give you some context, I have felt a growing conflict between my beliefs as a teacher in the Korean public education system and the expectations my school has of me, this is certainly something I expect a lot of EFL/ESL teachers feel at some point. I strongly believe that, given the limited time I have with students (roughly 22 hours over the course of the year) the most effective role I can have is to help develop my students skills in using and, especially, communicating in the English language. I think that after 10 years in the Korean school system there isn’t any grammar I can teach they don’t already know, or a useful amount of vocabulary I can teach in the given time period. For me, my students need to chance to use this grammar, to create language and to explore just what they are capable of doing the knowledge they have. My school sees things differently; they would like me to teach key expressions to the students as they feel it is necessary to give the students a written and listening test, and so I’ve found myself spending almost all my time helping students to understand key expressions that, if I’m honest, I don’t think will be useful to them and I think could be taught in Korean. It’s been frustrating!

The Change:

Last night as I went to bed I had HUGE plans!!! I was going to prepare a PowerPoint to help me explain my points, I was going to suggest that the school scraps the listening and writing test on our classes and that we do away with key expressions unless they are needed to understand an activity as well as many other changes. Instead I bottled it (which on reflection is definitely a good thing) and I spoke informally with the head of English, explained my concerns regarding the students’ development and how I felt the students could gain a lot more from my classes than just doing well in a test. She expressed her concern that if we didn’t have a listening test students would not be as prepared for the university entrance exams as they could be. We ended up compromising that we will make the lessons cover two classes instead of one, we keep the keep expressions for that theme int he first class and in the second class (week 2) we would focus on the skills I had suggested.  This was a much smaller change than I had wanted, but one I think is going to make a huge difference for my students and keeps everyone happy.

The Realisation:

As teachers we all have our students’ best interests at heart. If we really feel strongly enough that our students can benefit from a small change then there’s no harm in asking, the worst that can happen is our institutions ignore us. I guess what I’m saying is, if we really think our students are suffering and we can explain why to those who make the decisions, there’s every chance they might agree and compromise. Admittedly I am lucky with the co-teachers I have and their attitude towards change, but I think it’s maybe a common mistake we make (especially in Korea) that there is a conflict of beliefs with our institution and that fighting for change just isn’t worth the hassle, but perhaps with a little nudge and compromise we can get what’s best for our students, or at least something we believe is closer to it. I think the best conclusion I can make is a tweet from an amazingly knowledgeable and experienced professor I follow on twitter (@seouldaddy):

@AlexSWalsh In some situations, to be a good teacher is to be a rebel….of course, rebels are often executed.”

Luckily this time I wasn’t!

Have you had any similar experiences in dealing with conflicts in teaching beliefs? If so I would love to hear any tips you could share! Also, how do you deal with those lessons that just don’t feel right? It would be great to share any tips you might have!

Comments

29/08/2012 20:39

Hey Alex,

Excellent post, as per usual! I love that you have brought this up, because it is something I try to do. As a teacher with MUCH less experience, I am always on the look out for what could be “tweaked” in a lesson. For the lessons that go extremely well I think about what went especially well and how I can tweak the others to make it even better.

I think the important thing to remember in this is that it is important to utilize reflection. Often times a small change IS all that is needed, however, if we haven’t spent an appropriate time reflecting we may change the wrong thing and everything can get even worse! (A mistake I have made countless times).

It is particularly difficult in the Korean context thanks to the lack of feedback many of us receive. It sounds like you have tackled your issues with genuine aplomb and in doing so have helped your students and your institution. Definitely a good model to follow.

PS. A late, but super happy CONGRATULATIONS on the recent recognition. Your a top teacher and a top bloke and deserve every accolade. This blog (along with a few others) keeps me going and motivated through the year. It is invaluable to any teacher out there who genuinely cares for what they do.

The Reflections of My Disgruntled High School Students – A Path to Success?

In March this year I transferred employers and so I also had to transfer to a different high school. The high school I moved to is one of the most prestigious in Seoul, and as such I consider myself lucky to have some of the highest level students in Korea, they are motivated, polite, respectful and active in every class. They have mostly adapted to my teaching style well and seemed to have enjoyed the range of activities they have been provided with. There has, however, been one class that have not responded well, and over the eight weeks we have entered into a vicious circle of disrespect, disobedience and then punishment, which in turn has lead to more disrespect and so the circle continues. I’ve been reassured by my co-teachers that this isn’t something I should worry about, that my other 18 classes are really happy, that this particular class also has problems with all their other subjects and that their Korean English teacher had to change last year due to the stress of teaching them. I still, however, found myself leaving school every Tuesday with the feeling that not only was I failing the students, but I was failing them more and more every week as the cycle continued.

I decided this week I had to try and break this cycle, for my sake as much as the students. So I started thinking of how I could do this. My co-teachers had made some great suggestions, such as trying to bond with them more and develop rapport by either playing games for a class or taking them in a treat, but this just didn’t sit well with me as I strongly believe these are things that need to be earned, and I wanted to get beyond the carrot and stick approach. I eventually decided to have an intervention reflection style meeting with the students, I was going to ask them to reflect on the class and, in doing so, I hoped they would realise that despite how it seemed, they are just as important to me as all my other students. By treating them like the young adults they are (2nd grade high school) and giving them the respect that comes with this I was optimistic we could come together to reach a respectful agreement as to how we can move forwards as a class. I decided that no matter what complaints they made about the class and myself, I would respect them and neither disagree nor argue. If they told me, for example, they cannot complete activities as my instructions are not clear enough, I would not point out that much lower level 1st grade classes are able to understand the instructions and complete the activities, so why can’t they?! The questions I posed to the students were:

1) Respect – How can I respect them more? How can they respect me more? What would the result be?

2) Problems and Issues – What problems do they have, what are the solutions? What problems do they think I have, what are the solutions?

3) Moving Forwards – What can they achieve? How can we help each other to achieve it?

I removed all the tables and created a circle of chairs (see pic below) in order to encourage the students to get involved. I started off by asking them why they thought they were sat in a circle like this. The students very quickly figured out it was something to do with the problems we had been having in class.

We then moved onto respect, I asked them to think of two ways they thought I had been disrespectful to them and vice-versa. They came up with some interesting answers, from themselves they identified sleeping, not listening to instructions, being late for class, not doing homework and not taking the class seriously, from myself they felt I had not listened to them enough, that I take the class too seriously and that my classes were too ‘tight’. I was reasonably happy about this response, although I consider myself an extremely friendly and approachable teacher I think that in my attempts to correct the behaviour of this class I have become a bit more cold and stern towards them than I am in my than other classes. Regarding the ‘tight’ issue, I feel this is due to cultural expectations in the Korean education system of the role of the native English speaking ‘teacher’ as an entertainer, not an educator that takes their students learning very seriously. Something I try very strongly to disprove!
We then moved onto problems and issues. To begin with this descended into exactly what I didn’t want; the highlighting of problems (or more like excuses) that didn’t explain why they are the only class in the school that do not participate in lessons, such as not being able to understand instructions, that conversation class should just be for playing games and gaining their interest in English (this was what they meant by too ‘tight’), that they have to do too much writing and that the class is too hard. At this point I couldn’t keep to the rules I had set myself as I couldn’t resist pointing out that much lower level 1st grade boy classes complete the same lessons without any issues at all, and that by looking through the worksheets they actually contain hardly any writing at all. This was, however, the catalyst I needed, as once I said this one very brave young adult put his hand up and told me that the problem is none of the above, but that there are 7 or 8 trouble makers in the class that ruin the classes for everyone else, not only in English class, but in every subject, and that if we could deal with them, there would be no problems.  He told me that the other students were tired of being punished because of the trouble makers and it was frustrating that my punishments focused on the class rather than the culprits themselves. He was absolutely right, in the class of 38 students a large minority were forcing me to lose my focus on the class as a whole, and this minority was big enough that class dynamics didn’t allow the others to put peer pressure on the trouble makers due to intimidation, and so punishing the whole class was completely ineffective. I then asked the class how they would like me to deal with this and suddenly 7 or 8 students became very quiet, while 30 others became very vocal. Unfortunately, their solutions mainly revolved around removing the 7 or 8 from the class or giving them physical punishments and, as far as I am concerned, if my students are not in class they are not learning and therefore I am failing them, and, well, physical punishment I certainly don’t agree with, so I had to reject their solutions. I did, however, promise the class that I would deal with this problem.

Was this intervention reflection style approach a success? I think that thanks to this one very brave student it was. Those 7 or 8 students that are ruining the experience for others now know that not only am I tired of their behaviour, but their class mates are too. If dealt with correctly, it will allow myself and the majority of the class to work together to produce a more positive learning atmosphere in the class, which in itself could help to focus those 7 or 8 students. It has allowed me to reflect on this vicious circle that resulted in me becoming more and more stern, and the effect this can have on students, it also allowed my students to reflect on why I may have become more and more stern. Most importantly the students can come into class next week knowing that I care about them and I can enter the class knowing the majority of them care about learning English.

This leaves me with one problem, what am I going to do about those 7 or 8 students? Any suggestions would be extremely welcome indeed! It has certainly left me with something to reflect upon for the next 7 days!

Please leave any suggestions/comments below, and don’t forget you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

 
 

Comments

08/05/2012 05:18

Kudos on a very brave and seemingly very valuable intervention. And now the really hard work begins 🙂

I don’t have too much experience with stuff like this from my high school days, my kids were always reasonably polite (thankfully).

I think the first thing to say is that the reflection session has probably helped more than you think it has. I would imagine that being named and shamed by their classmates has probably led to a few of the troublemakers considering their behaviour, and might lead to some better behaviour for a few weeks at least. Vocalising their feelings may also have given the rest of the class the confidence to police behaviour themselves too. After all, 30 united against 7 gives a lot more collective will than thinking you’re on your own. I think you might see a very different group dynamic in next week’s class. One thing I would recommend is talking to the whole class at the start of the next lesson, and saying how much you valued the session and how you’re looking forward to moving on positively. Hell, you could even show them this post – they might be flattered to know you care enough to write about them.

If the bad behaviour does continue, I’d suggest dealing with it out of class. I presume you know who the troublemakers are. Get them alone and talk to them reasonably. Tell them what you expect, and what they can expect if they don’t live up to that.

In terms of punishment, while I think you’re absolutely right not to exclude them from class completely, I wouldn’t be scared of sending them out of class for one lesson if they’re being disruptive. I think sometimes you have to make a pedagogic call about how many people you’re letting down, 1 or 39. It doesn’t have do be done with drama either. Just calmly tell them that they can go.

As a final tip, think very carefully about your seating arrangement 🙂

I think that’s enough waffle for now. Best of luck,

A

Reply
08/05/2012 05:32

Thanks for your support and advice Alex, it’s always appreciated. I certainly hope you’re right about the group dynamics next week. I think you’re suggestion of a quick reminder at the beginning of next class is a great idea, it could act as a warning to the 7 or 8 subtly disguised as a compliment to the class for their honesty.

Reply
Billy
08/05/2012 05:26

mate this happens in primary as well, trust me! I know from being a dick at school myself that the only thing that ever got me to shut up and not be a dick was a teacher I liked and respected and didn’t want to upset. Losing their cool and punishing / shouting always lost that respect, I’d say you’re wise to move away from pushing and threatening them. If you can identify the bad ones, you could rearrange the class (the entire class, not just them). Is levelled learning cool in your school? Give them a choice between a hard worksheet and an easy one? Motivation might go up if they get something they can do, I’ve seen it work (but thats primary again). Same goes for game time, lower level kids do a simpler game with the Korean teacher while higher kids do a hard one with me, works wonders for both groups. But that’s assuming you co-teach. Anyway good luck with it mate sounds like a dream job apart from that!

Reply
08/05/2012 05:40

Hi Billy,

I totally know what you’re saying about being a dick at school, it’s fair to say I was one of the worst, and just as you say the only thing that could make me behave was a teacher I liked and respected.

Unfortunately leveled learning isn’t an option. To be honest the level of the work is not the problem, the students causing the trouble aren’t actually the lowest level students, there are much lower level students in the first grade who are respectful, listen and attempt to do every single activity, which is why this has got me kind of stumped! In fact one of the students that causes problems in this class will happily speak almost fluently with me outside of the classroom, but once inside the classroom………. The problem is only with this one class.

I would love to hear any more suggestions you’ve got mate! Also I really appreciate the time you took to read/comment 🙂

Alex

Reply
08/05/2012 06:13

Hey,

I don’t think I really have any suggestions (or anything much new to say since Alex G shared a lot of good stuff). I just wanted to say that it is great that you shared this experience and post with the world. I am very hopeful that today’s events will be a catalyst for positive changes in the coming weeks. My prediction is that things might be a bit rocky but that you are all going in a good direction. Thanks so much for your bravery and honesty in sharing this and positive image that you are spreading of “alien teachers.”

Reply
08/05/2012 17:42

Hi Mike,

I really hope so too, I got a really nice comment from my main co-teacher today (whom I consider a role model as she is fantastic) that she thinks I may have done every teacher in the school a favour by giving the students a chance to express their feelings, if so that would be really great. I will definitely be posting updates as to the results and changes in the class over the next couple of months.

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and your really nice comments, it’s really appreciated 🙂

Alex W

Reply
Anne
08/05/2012 07:43

Hey Alex,

Thanks for sharing the experience. I think your idea for getting your students out in the open and talking was a good one. I’m glad it worked to any degree. Remember that this isn’t the end. It’s a great start and I hope you see a dramatic shift, but if the class doesn’t improve, you can always bring them back to the reflective process and try again. You could even do that anyway periodically just to get an idea of how things are going and remind them that they need to meet you halfway.

I don’t know what to do about your 7 or 8. If they’re a problem as a group, I’d talk to them as a group and find out where they’re coming from. After being singled out by the class, they might need their own chance to be heard by you before you can convince them to meet you halfway. Thanks again for sharing the story and good luck.

Reply
08/05/2012 17:47

Hi Anne!

It’s my pleasure sharing the experience as I knew the amazing community we have would provide me with some really great ideas in dealing with the issue. I definitely like your idea of bringing them back the reflective process, especially if their is an improvement in behaviour the asking them to reflect upon how the changes have improved their experiences could prevent them slipping back into bad habits!

I’m going to speak to my co-teacher today, she’s extremely supportive and so I’m sure she would support speaking to that group of 7 or 8 students with me to try and reach an understanding.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

Alex W

Reply
scott carpenter
08/05/2012 16:42

Alex, I think that intervention was a great idea. I agree that through the results of that, you will see better behavior from the problem Ss. Good luck and keep up the good blogging.

Reply
08/05/2012 17:49

Hi Scott!

Thanks for taking the time to read it, I appreciate your really positive comments and I really hope you’re right!

Thanks again!

Alex W

Reply
08/05/2012 18:19

Alex,

Just wanted to join the others in thanking you for this post. It’s great how you reach out to your students as adults and learners to be respected.

When I was a social worker, we did a lot of stuff around group building and group dynamics. All groups experience conflict. It’s one of the ways they develop and grow. But conflict can be internal or external. The goal of any group was always to move them from conflict into a place of productivity. And one way to do that was to force them to externalize their conflict, usually through some kind of challenge so that sense of conflict seemed to be coming from the outside. I know this is kind of airy-theory, but I wonder if there’s some kind of mini-challenge that you can place on the class which seems to be coming from outside (a request from the administration or something) that would require all the students working together at the beginning of the class? If the 7/8 problem students can’t be integrated into the class, the students won’t be able to reach their highest levels of productivity. Sorry, this isn’t much of a help I’m afraid.

Thanks again for the read. And I’m really happy to have your blog on my radar.

Kevin

Reply
08/05/2012 18:56

Hi Kevin!

Thanks so much for your kind words. Also, I have to disagree with you, what you wrote is a really big help! I think giving the class some kind of challenge where they all have to work together, and I love the idea of it coming from an outside source, perhaps it could even be some kind of challenge that includes myself so we all have to work together, definitely a very interesting idea, thanks!

I’m really happy to be on your radar Kevin!

Thanks again for your advice!

Alex W

Reply
pterolaur
08/05/2012 19:08

I’m afraid I don’t have any helpful suggestions, but just wanted to say what a great post this is.

Reply
08/05/2012 22:19

Hi! Just wanted to let you know I appreciate you taking the time to read it and your positive comments 🙂

Alex W

Reply
Leonie Overbeek
08/05/2012 20:54

I can totally relate – only in my case the problem is exacerbated by a Korean co-teacher who is with me in every class and is the biggest instigator of the whole cycle – as we walk through the door he shouts and screams. Yesterday I got him to try something – we asked one of the leaders of the rebellion (use the force, Luke!) to lead the class. After ten futile minutes of screaming and shouting at them to ‘be quiet’ the student gave up and sat down, which allowed me to step in and ask the others why they did not listen? The excuses came thick and fast – ‘not teacher, no leader, no know English’ – while the student listened. I then asked the vocal ones if they could do it – if they could lead the class? The chorus of noes came thick and fast. So who has to lead the class and teach? To give them credit, quite a few saw the trap and shut up, but a large number yelled that teacher must teach. Including our former rebel. And then I could say but how can I teach when no one listens, or works? And how can my co-teacher teach?
Maybe you could try this ‘walk in my shoes’ with them – they don’t even have to teach English, they can teach whatever they want to. Ten minutes of classtime for them to lead. And learn, hopefully!

Reply
08/05/2012 22:27

Hi Leonie!

Wow, having a co-teacher adding to the problems must make it really tough to deal with the situation! There’s definately a lot to be said to trying to get students to realise that lessons can be fun, but not while there is negative behaviour in the room. I like the having them plan and conduct a lesson idea. I doubt my school would let me do it during term time, but after their final exams I have two weeks when I might be able to try something like this. If my school will let me do it I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Thanks so much for reading and for your comments and suggestions, it’s really appreciated!

Alex W

Reply
Thomas Topham
08/05/2012 21:46

Here is my first gut feeling about how I would move forward.

Next class, those 7 or 8 are put at a special table at the back. Thank the group for their honest and productive talk last time, “I now know that it isn’t just me who wants to have a proper, fun, involving lesson, but many of you do as well”.

You are re-affirming that special moment in which group dynamics are being reset.

The special table at the back cannot disrupt the class. They are free to quietly use phones, do homework, read, or participate in the lesson. So long as they are non-disruptive they are free.

Then you do a really fun and involving English lesson.

My guess is that within a few lessons, the majority of the special table people will change their minds and start to join in normally.

Reply
08/05/2012 22:34

Hi Thomas!

First of all thanks for taking the time to comment and make your suggestions. I actually had a meeting with my co-teachers today, and our idea is very similar to the one you suggest. At the beginning of the class I will thank the class for their honesty last lesson, tell them I’m looking forward to use having some great lessons moving forwards etc. We are going to place 7 tables well spread apart along the back wall facing the wall. If the 7 or 8 students who are disruptive continue to be so, they will be asked to move to one of those tables, where they will be provided with work sheets that involve not much more than copying out the hey expressions from that class over and over. They can then decide at the beginning of the next class whether they would like to participate or go back to the tables against the back wall. So ye, this is very similar to the solution you’ve suggested above!!!

And yep, a special effort is going to be made to make the next few lessons as fun as possible, especially for the last 15 minutes of them!

Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

Alex W

Reply
09/05/2012 00:17

Hi Alex – I can totally sympathise with your situation having been there myself, and I agree with other comments that having a sit-down with the class can only have helped matters. I was going to make a similar suggestion to Leonie, ie you hand some of the learning over to the students, and all try to learn lessons from the successes or failures of that venture. I did the same with a really difficult class last year (13/14 year olds) and I blogged my way through it – if you want to know what I did, here’s the introduction: http://reesiepielangs.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/kobayashi-maru/
It sounds like you have supportive colleagues too, which is a great help. Looking forward to hearing how it all works out.

Reply
Julia ( mum)
09/05/2012 10:58

I was so interested in this blog Alex and very proud of you for trying to handle it in the way you have done. You have been given some very good advice from all people and so there’s nothing I feel I can add apart from re iterating that the ‘ trouble makers’ need to be made to feel respected and giving them responsibility could work, not primary stuff but grown up responsibility. Not sure what that could be as dont know the Korean system but I’m sure you do!! Good luck xx

Reply
Andy Clay
15/05/2012 08:02

Hello mate, great post and it’s made me think a bit about a nightmare class I have here in the UAE. Unfortunately their English level probably isn’t good enough for the intervention approach to work, but it’s a similar dynamic in terms of 6 or 7 students out of the 30 instigating the trouble; most of the rest are either trying to work or just lazy but not disruptive. Reading your blog and the posts above has made me think I’ve definitely been guilty of punishing the whole class the same instead of singling out the troublemakers. I’ll definitely give it a go and see if isolating the bad kids at the back and working with the rest has any effect.

Best of luck with your next class, and keep up the great work with the blog!

Andy

Inevitable? Reflections on Beating Exam Time Fatigue

My students are currently facing the last week before their dreaded mid-terms exams. It is their first set of exams of the year and boy does it affect them. In a matter of one week my students have gone from teenagers full of life, energy and optimism, ready to participate and try their best in every activity to teenagers dreading the future, sleep deprived, hardly wanting to sit up and certainly not able to maintain the concentration span of even the most dreamy of teenagers. With this being the first set of exams, things are only going to get worse throughout the year as the pressure builds, it is simply the sad ineveitable truth of the education system most of the world adopts, especially here in South Korea. Today I asked one of my sleepy students how much sleep she got last night, she replied “2 hours”. Even if this is an exaggeration, which I don’t think it is, it certainly explains the change in our students! And I don’t think this change only affects public school and university teachers, in academies a teacher may not be directly involved with the students public school/university exams, but his or her students are still going to feel the fatigue from them.

This time last year I saw exactly the same pattern in my students, and I thought to myself “what can I do? This is Korea, this is how it works here so I’ll just have to accept it and keep teaching.” This year that just doesn’t cut it for me, I’m their teacher, and this is something that is inevitably going to happen year upon year, I can’t just accept that my students won’t learn anything for four weeks of every year, and so if the exams aren’t going anywhere,  that only leaves one solution, I will have to adapt to them. Why are my thoughts different this year? Well, yes I have a year more experience, but I think most importantly I’ve also been lucky enough to be involved with some fantastic role models in reflective teaching sessions.

So as teachers, what can we do to adapt to our students around exam time? One thing I’m certainly not willing to do is have ten students falling asleep in my class, or even one for that matter! So I started reflecting on my lesson planning and the range of activities I used today (I taught exactly the same lesson in exactly the same way as one I taught last week and received a very high assessed score for and had some extremely engaged students) and I came to a few conclusions about what I can do to adapt to my students:

1)    Their attention span is extra super-low, so my instructions have to be shorter and easier to understand. No complicated genius activities on my part!!

2)    Receptive skills (reading and listening) are probably not a good choice; I read to help myself get to sleep when I’m in bed, and on 3 hours sleep I certainly couldn’t concentrate on a 5 minute listening exercise. Perhaps I could have replaced that short description with a picture. Perhaps they could have even chosen the picture from a selection.

3)    Bums on seats is not the way for me to go, two of my activities involved students standing up today and this probably wasn’t enough. I definitely don’t mean make students stand behind their chairs as they can’t sleep when stood up (yes, I have seen these techniques used), I do mean that activities that involve students standing up and moving to gather information could be even more useful than normal, and are probably a must, even if it results in some form of chaos, I reckon this is better than any form of sleeping.

4)    Drawing. Personally I don’t have students making posters etc. too often (mainly due to limited resources), but I figure if I’m going to do it, this is probably the time! I’m saving my poster making resources for this time next semester!

5)    Short, snappy activities. Even shorter and snappier than usual, instead of having my students make 5 questions to ask one partner, perhaps I could have had them make three and ask two people.

6)    My lesson today involved 7 new expressions, that isn’t a lot (I don’t think), however, if students have been up until 3a.m memorizing vocabulary and grammar, there probably isn’t any room left. Also, effective CCQ’s for 7 expressions? Realistically that’s probably up to 10 minutes concentration needed, even if it is interactive between the students and me, which was no problem a week ago, that was too long today.

7)    Taking the students outdoors, fresh air has got to help. Next semester I’m going to think of an activity, any activity, as an excuse to get my students outside.

Some of these reflections are probably things we do as teachers a lot of the time anyway, but I think with a special focus I can beat the inevitability that lurks around every school I’ve worked at that ‘it’s the week before mid-terms, the students can’t learn anything this week’ routine. Unfortunately, I won’t be teaching a pre-exam week class for another two months, but I’ll be sure to come back to this and evaluate how successful I was second time round compared to today!

How do you beat exam time fatigue? I would be really interested to hear any tips to get the most from your classes at this time of year.

Oh, and you can follow me on twitter @alexswalsh

Comments

Kristina
19/04/2012 03:01

Alex,

You are very thoughtful and compassionate to recognize the change in student behavior during these trying times of exams, and you have presented some excellent ideas for modifying lessons with the students in mind. You might also try some lessons with upbeat music, videos, role plays or even TPR! I have had some success with these things as well as appealing to the students’ condition by tossing coffee mix pkgs and tea bags to students who actively and accurately answer pertinent questions correctly. You could take that idea one step further and do a lesson on directions or different registers of writing (recipes) where they learn “how to” make a cup of coffee or tea, and then actually make (demonstrate) it AND drink it!

Anyway, just some ideas that came to mind for me. Just understanding and relating to the students current frame of mind and telling them that you are doing what you can to make things easier on them will be much appreciated by them! It can only make them love you more (than they already do, I’m sure).

All the best to you and your students. Do let us know what post-exam time looks like.

Cheers,
Kristina

What isn’t reflective practice? What is reflective practice?

Recently, reflective practice has come up in a number of conversations within the teaching communities I am involved in. The way it has been talked about has left me with the feeling that a lot of people don’t really understand what reflective practice involves. A number of examples of what people claim to have been reflective practice include:• Finishing a lesson and just knowing that the lesson went well…• Post lesson, filling in a form identifying what you thought went well, what you thought went badly and what you will do differently next time…

• Sharing an activity with a colleague because your students really enjoyed it…

• Thinking about how you give instructions and concluding they were ‘successful’ because all the students were looking, some of them nodded their heads and even answered your CCQ’s correctly…

• Knowing that the students feel like your class is beneficial and understand it because they do all the activities, often laugh and smile and even tell you how much they love you…

Why are these not forms of reflective practice? Well, to borrow from Farrell (2013), they simply “consist of fleeting thoughts that are based on hunches, intuition, or even some actions that happened in the class.” For me, and Farrell (2013) it seems, this is simply not enough. In some ways, claims such as those above which, in my opinion, are becoming increasingly synonymous with reflective practice, neatly exhibit the ‘buzz word’ status that reflective practice is starting to gather. In doing so, they are somewhat simplifying the complexity and commitment required to truly engage in reflective practice.If we are going to explore what reflective practice really is then it seems right to go back to its roots. According to Dewey (1933:17), reflective practice is an opportunity to “convert action that is merely repetitive, blind, and impulsive into intelligent action” (1933:17). It is a process by which teachers can consider, evaluate, problem solve and potentially alter their teaching behaviours by looking back upon events in light of research and knowledge. This is commonly referred to as ‘reflection-on-action’. By participating in reflection-on-action we can, hopefully, improve our ability for reflection-in-action, that is, according to Schön (1983,1987), thinking consciously about and adapting to an event as it is taking place. We know how to adapt to these events through experimentation in our own teaching.To try and apply this to modern day teaching, to engage in reflective practice I believe we must we must be actively doing one of two things; a systematic gathering of evidence, or, a critical thought process that allows us to question, seek, and form alternatives. It is through the collection of evidence or critically thought out alternatives that we can begin to form testable conclusions, and it is from these testable conclusions that we can systematically question our assumptions and beliefs, allowing us to change and improve as teachers. I’m now going to briefly review how we might go about doing this.

Critical Thought ProcessI’m going to start with the critical thought process. For me, the easiest way to start reflecting down this root is through the experiential learning cycle (ELC). To try and offer a very brief summary of how to use the ELC in teaching, you can begin by asking yourself three questions:
4820200

Image from the fantastic http://www.tokenteach.wordpress.com by Josette le Blanc
Pick an event from class, now ask:1) What? This stage should be used as a time for a description of what happened. There should be no emotions and no presumptions.Example: I introduced the activity to my students. To do this I first gave the instructions to my students. I saw them all nodding their heads. I did an example with my co-teacher. I then asked 3 CCQs, the students got them all correct. When I went round to monitor the students there were around 10 students who had not shared their answers with their partners. I felt really frustrated.

2) So What? Now, it is time to develop various possibilities for the event occurring. This stage is imperative, yet those not engaged in critical reflection will often simply skip it. The problem with that is that we are then forming conclusions based on our immediate interpretation (example 1 below). It is at this stage you may want to consider educational theory, research, methodologies and past learning experiences. By critically considering alternatives, we can begin to formulate further explanations we would have missed otherwise.

Example 1 (knee jerk reaction to event): the students who didn’t do the activity properly must have been day dreaming, so I should ask them to stay behind after class and give them minus points for not concentrating.

Example 2: The task may have been too difficult for the students, according to research there should only be 8 words in a text that students don’t know, were there more than that?

Example 3: Were my CCQs confusing? My CELTA taught me that they should only be one or two word answers.

Example 4: What class did my students have before this one? Did they have a test? Did they have gym class?

Example 5: Did I give them too many steps at once? This study suggests activities should be broken down into a maximum of one or two steps at a time.

3) Now What? From these alternatives you can now form a testable action plan grounded in critical thought.

Example: Next time I give instructions, I will give an example with a student and break the activity down into smaller components so that they are easier for the students to digest.

Evidence Collection

According to Farrell (2013), to begin engaging in evidence based reflective practice we can ask ourselves five questions:

1) What do I do?

2) How do I do it?

3) Why do I do it?

4) What is the result?

5) Will I change anything based on the answers to the above questions?

Example: Using a tape recorder, record yourself giving instructions for one period. Count the number of filler words you use, transcribe the sentences, decide if they could be more concise. At the end of the lesson, ask students to fill in a feedback card with some simple questions:

Did you understand how to do the activities?

Do you find examples easy to follow?

Do I use words you don’t understand?

There are a huge number of ways to collect evidence that can all revolve around these five questions. I’ve included a document I made for a workshop I was conducting on professional development with some other options that you may want to consider.

Later in the week I hope to put together a blog post on how you might want to go about starting a reflective practice group in your local community. But, in the meantime, I hope I have dispelled a couple of emerging myths regarding reflective practice and offered a starting point from which people can consider getting more involved with actual reflective practice.

References

Dewey, J (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: NY: Basic Books.

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching and learning in the profession. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Farrell, T (2013). Reflective Teaching. TESOL International Association: Virginia