In approaching the end of the diploma course, and having now had my final teaching observation, I want to talk a little about dialogue. When I think about learning, I think about asking questions, about inquiring and exploring, about critical thinking and dialogue. So in my mind, learning is (at least in part) about dialogue. This, de facto, makes two minds better than one.
While it was an important part of my development beforehand – and will no doubt continue to be – I feel that dialogue has been an integral part of my journey on this course, and I’ve had mixed experiences of it along the way.
Some of the most stimulating dialogue has arisen out of my observed lessons, and I’ve found it invaluable to be able to discuss and evaluate the components of a lesson – and questions that arise from it – with other experienced practitioners. Time restrictions have meant that on many occasions I feel we’re only just scratching the surface, but these dialogues have triggered thoughts and ideas that warrant further investigation and consideration.
Similarly I have found so many of the input sessions on the course (and the dialogues that have taken place within and around those sessions) to be thought-provoking and inspiring. There are also some people who I have engaged with more deeply outside the sessions, resulting in some fascinating discussions and rewarding collaborations.
However, I have occasionally found some of the dialogues we’ve had during the course to be quite frustrating. One area of discussion for me during the Materials Design module has been the role of Educational Technology in the world of ELT. When questioning some aspects of EdTech, and in expressing caution, I feel that at times I’ve been judged to be ‘anti-technology’, which is very far from where I stand. It’s almost impossible to engage in a meaningful dialogue with someone – and is thus enormously frustrating – when somebody has decided that you are ‘anti-technology’ and so processes everything you say through that filter. If I am to learn, I need to question and to be questioned. Dialogue is about questioning, but to be successful, its questions must be taken at face value. No one likes to be misunderstood.
I wasn’t going to write about this here, but in explaining my feelings to a colleague, I realised that there are huge parallels to be drawn with our language learners. No one likes to be misunderstood. But as language is such an integral part of our communications, the nature of learning a second language means that there will be times when our learners are misunderstood – an experience which as we know can be hugely frustrating, and can cause them to retreat into themselves.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the direct implication of this for teachers is that we need to be ensuring that our learners have both the language with which to explain themselves, and the language with which to clear up misunderstandings.
The latter seems more straightforward: the function of preventing and dealing with misunderstandings. But although it seems straightforward, this area is (probably) too frequently overlooked in our classrooms – my own included. Because it can relate to learners’ experiences of the language on such an emotional and personal level, we need to ensure it gets the attention it deserves. If such a study were possible, I wonder what the ratio would be of how frequently we teach lower level learners the phrase ‘I don’t understand’ and the phrase ‘that’s not what I meant’.
The former implication – teaching learners how to explain themselves – requires us to really get to know our learners. Not to go into a course with a book and a programme and a plan of knowing what we’re going to teach, but to go in and find out what it is they want to express, and support them in doing so.
Another area of dialogue I’ve experienced on the course has been surrounding the blogs. There hasn’t been as much sharing of blogs between teachers on the course as I had expected, and this has had both positive and negative effects. At times it has led me to feel a little isolated in my thoughts, but this isolation, in turn, has allowed me a freedom of expression, as if I’m talking freely to myself.
This feeling has only been occasional though, as my experiences and explorations on both the Teaching & Reflection and the Materials Design modules have in fact been shared: with a couple of my peers on the course, and with my colleagues at ELC. This has led to some great discussions – in the teachers’ room, in the pub, and occasionally via my blog – with teachers who have a variety of interests and experiences. Some of my colleagues who I’ve shared dialogues with are teacher trainers, some have been teaching for many years and are approaching retirement age, some are in academic management positions, many are diploma qualified, one is currently doing her masters in ELT, and a couple are (relatively) new to the profession. I feel so fortunate and so privileged to be working with such a variety of teachers who are passionate about and engaged with their work, and are so supportive of and interested in my development during this course, and the joy for me is that they’ll all still be in the teachers’ room when I finish the diploma course! 🙂