3. What do I expect from a teacher?

04/10/2015

While reading the first chapter of Scrivener’s Learning Teaching (Macmillan 2005), I asked myself what I would expect of a teacher were I beginning a new language course.  Here are my thoughts.

I would want the lessons to include:

  1. Topics which engage me
  2. Tasks that make me want to communicate something
  3. Help in formulating the language with which to complete those tasks
  4. Plenty of practice (both supported and freer) in using the new language, preferably within the context of a fun activity, and ideally as close to reality as possible
  5. Continual feedback to ensure I’m using the language correctly
  6. Time to process and record in my own way what I’ve learnt
  7. I would want to be able to SEE, HEAR and FEEL the language.

feelSEE – the word(s) or phrase in a memorable context (i.e. close to my reality), written and perhaps illustrated, along with a clear and consistent way of showing pronunciation.

HEAR – the word(s) or phrase repeatedly: from the teacher, from others, from myself.

FEEL – the word(s) or phrase in my mouth in order to experience and practise the pronunciation, and in my body.  That is to say, where possible I would want my physicality to be closely related to the meaning of what I’m trying to say.  For example, if I were practising language of ordering food in a restaurant, I would want my physical stance and environment to be as close to reality as possible.  If I were learning the word excited, I would want to practise saying it in an excited manner in order to fully experience the meaning of the word.

Aside: Perhaps this need to experience language is something 
informed by my acting background, although in thinking about 
learners other than myself I don’t think it’s uncommon, and 
believe that the more closely an activity relates to the 
learner’s real-world activities, the more likely it is 
that the language being practised will be retained.  
This is a belief I’ve developed largely through my teaching 
experience and although I’m not yet able to support this 
feeling with evidence from SLA research, I anticipate (and 
hope) to be able to do so in the not too distant future.
  1. Most of all, I would want to revisit the language again and again (and again).

To what extent does the above happen in my classes?

  1. I work really hard to choose materials and topics which I believe will stimulate and inspire my students to communicate, and believe this is one of my strengths.
  2. I try to do this, but would like to do so more. I anticipate that the Teaching & Reflection module on this course will make me more acutely aware of what happens in my classroom and allow me the space to develop and implement more frequently things that I want to happen, which perhaps don’t happen enough.
  3. As above. Sometimes when working on a project with students, I have to work particularly hard to respond to what’s happening and ensure the students have the language they need to complete the task.  To quote Peter Wilberg (One to One, LTP 1987), ‘Responsibility is Response-Ability’.  This is probably what I believe most strongly about what it is a teacher should do.
  4. Yes, but I want to do more, more, more! While I aspire to do this, like every teacher I’m constrained by time limitations and work-load.  It’s all too easy, and frankly lazy, to think (as some students and no doubt teachers do) that we’ve ‘done’ a language point.  But as I’ve described above, if it were me, I’d want repeated practice.  While I frequently revisit relatively new language, I don’t do so as consistently as I’d like. So perhaps something I need to implement is a short task or activity at the beginning of each session (and again at the end of each week) which requires the students to reuse previously learned language.  On the Cert IBET course in January I noted the trainers used a lovely technique of getting the teachers to reflect on the previous day’s input and share their thoughts about what most struck them.  Since then I’ve done the same with my students – frequently, but once again not as consistently as I feel I ought.
Aside: so I seem to be unearthing a pattern for me here: I learn
about and discover new techniques which I believe in passionately,
but fail to maintain them on a regular basis.  There’s only so 
much time in a lesson – am I being too hard on myself?  How can I 
address this without total brain overload?  Ah – this is 
reflection doing its work!
  1. Yes, for the most part.
  2. Frequently but not regularly. I expect learners to take responsibility but occasionally neglect to ensure they know how.  If I ask learners for homework to review the day’s lessons, I should provide them with a more specific framework with which to do so (along the lines of a Responding to a Text handout: What did you find most interesting, useful, surprising, etc).  It doesn’t have to be complex or lengthy, but something to give a starting point and perhaps structure for their thoughts.  Some time ago I created a Learner Feedback and Reflection Form inspired by Thomas Farrell’s writing on Lesson Planning (in Methodology in Language Teaching, Richards & Renandya, CUP, 2002:36) so perhaps I could adapt that.
  3. Again, I want this to happen more.  It comes into my teaching in small ways.  Last week, for example, the word disappointed came up in a lesson and I role played a mini scenario in which I was disappointed, before asking the students to ‘show me what disappointed looks like’.  The class were engaged and seemed to be enjoying the activity, and it was clearly effective as I noticed students reusing the word in subsequent lessons. Sometimes with a new phrase or expression (or word – but always within a larger context of a sentence) I’ll ask students to ‘say it like you’re happy/sad/tired’, etc, or ‘say it like you would to your boss/mum/a child/someone stupid’, etc.  Again this is something they appear to enjoy.
  1. See 4.

Points to take away

  • When lesson planning, try to always ask myself the question ‘will this make these students WANT to communicate?’
  • Try to implement a daily REVIEW
  • Make a little homework REFLECTION
  • Write see hear feel in the corner of my whiteboard and ask learners to try to do all three with new language. Is this too abstract?
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2 thoughts on “3. What do I expect from a teacher?

  1. There’s so much material and theory out there plus as teachers we also need to keep ourselves motivated. These 2 factors seem to inevitably keep us on our toes , trying out new ideas. What was at the top of our teaching methods one week can fall to the wayside the next either because the students or we or both have that ‘been there, done that’ feeling or because we have other needs to address in the classroom due to student changes etc. Your points to take away are great in that they’re simple, practical and highly effective in transferring knowledge from explicit to implicit memory. Review and reflection are really valuable and i’m going to nick the ‘see, hear, feel’ idea!

  2. Thanks Kandy,
    Yes I agree there is so much out there, and it’s interesting to note what informs our choices about methodology – ever changing contexts, ever evolving experience. With all of those factors, flexibility surely must be our main (overall) priority.
    The great thing about doing the dip (as you know yourself from doing the masters) is having the chance to consider, experiment with, develop and explore new techniques and approaches – and so expanding the range of tools at our disposal, making us better equipped to adapt to those ever changing contexts.
    The ‘see, hear, feel’ thing is I guess just one more tool, another way of experiencing language.
    Nick away! Do let me know how it goes. 🙂

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