65. Things we take forward

18/05/2016

Things we take forward

Last Friday five learners from my B2 group left the school to return home.  It had felt to me to be a particularly special and enjoyable group to teach as they had become very open and had developed a very positive group dynamic – encouraging and supporting of each other, imaginative and comfortable.  Most of the (eight) people in the group were over 30, one was 60, and I think the general maturity in the group helped in the development of a strong dynamic.

During the break on Friday, directly before our final lesson together, I decided to create a ‘ten things I learnt at ELC’ sheet for everyone to discuss and complete.  I always allow time for reflection, but it’s usually just in conversational format.  In this case I found that having a handout served as a nice focus for reflection as well as allowing everyone a ‘voice’.

There were some really interesting and encouraging answers, and I’d just like to note a few of the more interesting ones here (others included hypothetical past, vocabulary, English for meetings):

  • How to feel more confident
  • About mobile phone generation
  • About giraffes
  • Make new friends
  • Confusing is learning

The first point was particularly encouraging for me as a teacher, because I try to nurture an environment in which learners can become more confident, and it was especially evident with this group that most, if not all, of the learners developed more confidence during the one or two weeks we were together.  This is directly related to point four, as the dynamic that had led to the growth of (very evenly spread) friendships within the group also allowed for confidence to grow.  Points two and three were a result of learner presentations, one of which led to some very interesting discussions about technology (instigated entirely by the learners).

The last point might have worried me had I not understood where this particular learner was coming from:- we had previously discussed how exploring and asking questions as well as inductive learning are valuable techniques, and I could see that the learner who wrote this had become remarkably more ambiguity tolerant and inquisitive in the two weeks she was with the group.

This is particularly interesting in light of my own development on the diploma course.  That there is no one ‘right’ methodology or approach can seem confusing at times, but is a point I have come to recognise as one of the beauties of teaching, as teaching is largely about people getting to know people.

I had intended to write a separate more extensive post about these ‘ten things’ handouts, but resisted for two reasons:

  • I’ve learnt to be more selective in the amount of work I set myself, as I think it’s sometimes more constructive to allow my thoughts to settle and be processed in a more diffuse way, rather than doing absolutely everything that interests me.
  • I liked that my final post here was number 65. Somehow 66 didn’t have the same ring to it.

But I decided to talk about it briefly here, as it occurred to me that the ‘ten things I’ve learnt’ exercise would be valuable to do myself, with reference to the diploma course.  And I’m a great believer in always being prepared to do what we ask of our learners.  So, in no particular order, here are ten things I’ve learnt on the diploma course:

  • I have gained some insight into the many benefits of learner generated materials and visuals, and identified this as a special area of interest which I’m keen to explore further.
  • Grammar can be – and arguably should be – represented visually.
  • Intuition is more than just a feeling, but is informed by principles and beliefs which develop as a result of our experience.
  • I work in a very process oriented way, both as a learner myself and as a teacher in the classroom. As a learner I rely on an exploratory and experimental approach, informed by reading and dialogue, to reveal aspects of language teaching – from methodology to materials.  If I read or hear something that interests me I respond best when I have the opportunity to try it out for myself rather than just take it as given.  In teaching I enjoy the variety and dynamism that such explorations bring to the classroom, and encourage my learners to think critically and imaginatively about language.  I also believe in materials and classroom practices that are as closely related to learners’ real world needs as possible.  I recognise there is a parallel here, in that my own exploratory style of learning mirrors my classroom practices – thus is related to my own real world needs.
  • Teaching is about people. It’s too simplistic to see our students merely as students, and it’s when we manage to get beyond this view that lessons get really interesting and relevant, and thus learners engage with the language on a personal level.  (This is not to devalue more formal and traditional language instruction which I still believe has its place – within meaningful contexts.)  My approach to language teaching could be described as ‘principled eclecticism’, resulting from the recognition that people are different.
  • There is a powerful relationship between imitation – a seemingly formal and traditional classroom technique – and learner motivation. What links imitation and motivation is the concept of learners’ ideal L2 selves: the second language speakers they aspire to become.  Identifying different models for imitation contributes to the development of ideal selves, which can motivate learners to engage with language learning more deeply.  This is an area I want to explore on a more practical level in my classroom.
  • I like patterns. Language, language learning and teaching, and the language classrooms are complex and unpredictable, but much of the joy in learning is observing patterns and connections.
  • I like the language (or grammar) aspect of teaching more than I thought I did. I’ve always enjoyed exploring and analysing language, but on the whole my enjoyment of it has been outside the realm of grammar teaching and more in the context of my own interest in literature.  In teaching I’ve enjoyed being able to explain a point, but have often found grammar related materials to be dry, uninspiring and irrelevant to learners beyond ‘now we’re learning the present perfect’ (for example).  The language awareness module of the diploma – and some of its accompanying reading – has encouraged me to approach grammar from a place of inquisitiveness, which makes it far more exciting for me as the teacher and for learners.  In part I think this is to do with confidence.  While I have always enjoyed analysing language, I now feel less of a fraud doing so collaboratively with learners in the classroom, and in encouraging them to discover patterns for themselves rather than just providing an answer.
  • Nervousness feeds into my energy in the classroom and keeps me on my toes. No matter how well I do, I always get nervous when I’m being observed – although admittedly far less so than before I started the course.  I see this as no bad thing, as I feel that if I weren’t at least a little nervous, I’d be complacent, which would undermine the dynamism that I bring to the class.  Although I’ll always get nervous, I feel considerably more confident now than when I began the course.
  • Dialogue is integral to learning.

These are by no means wholly new revelations for me, and in thinking about the ten things I’ve learnt, none of them come as a big surprise, but my experiences and journey on the diploma course have developed and crystallised some of my views and beliefs about these areas, in a positive and inspiring way.  I still feel there is fluidity to my thoughts about these areas, but that’s a fluidity I value as it allows my understanding and practice to evolve further, and so enable me to continue developing as a teacher.

Returning to my very first post on this blog, What I hope to get from the diploma course, I’d just like to reflect briefly on whether I have achieved what I had hoped to.  Although this is a Teaching and Reflection blog, I’m reflecting on my initial hopes for all of the course modules here, as it’s very clear to me that the modules are decidedly interrelated.

Have I achieved the following…?

TE716 LANGUAGE AWARENESS

A deeper understanding of language structures and grammar – Yes.  To my surprise I found this module particularly enjoyable, and achieved far better results than I’d anticipated.

Different perspectives and ways of thinking about language – Yes.

A better understanding of Discourse Analysis – Yes.  I anticipated that this would be an area I found particularly interesting, and did find it very rewarding – and comforting – to understand and learn to identify specific elements of language that contribute to cohesion and coherence.

TE710 METHODOLOGY

Greater awareness and understanding of a range of methods and approaches – Yes, I do feel more confident with a variety of approaches, especially Task Based Learning and Dogme – no doubt because both are areas I have been able to explore practically in my classroom.  I also better understand and feel more equipped to teach different competencies.  There are still approaches I’d like to experiment with or explore further in my teaching (The Silent Way, Community Language Learning, Dogme).

TE719 TEACHING AND REFLECTION

More practice of good habits – Yes and no.  Yes, in that I’ve been far more conscious of how I’m teaching, but no in that there are always details I want to do or include but forget, as I’m conscious of other things. These are things I believe will largely resolve themselves in time as I have time to digest the input from the course and my explorations, and it will be interesting to observe how my teaching both settles and evolves following such an intense period of analysis.

A greater awareness of how my teaching practice is informed by methodology and SLA theories and research – Yes, and it’s particularly interesting to note how methodology and SLA theories and research contribute to the development of ones intuition, as I feel I am less conscious of some of these influences that others.

More confidence using authentic and literary texts – Yes.  I feel far better equipped to both prompt learners to respond to a text and exploit a text for language focus.

Activities and techniques with which to involve learners more deeply in course planning – I think I have developed in this area and more frequently involve learners in planning, but feel I still have some way to go with lower levels.  This is an aspect of my teaching I think will develop with more practice, and in particular experimentation with a more dogm-ish approach with lower levels.

TE711 SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

A clearer idea of what I think and believe about FLA and SLA – Hmmm, that’s a tricky one if I’m honest.  There are some things I understand more clearly and believe contribute to language acquisition, but certainly don’t feel I have an ‘answer’ to how acquisition works.  However, I don’t feel I need one especially (maybe I’ve become more ambiguity tolerant!)  In terms of the SLA module I feel I have more reading to do to more fully understand some theories of acquisition, as the nature of the course didn’t allow as much time for investigation as would be ideal.  However, I did find the assessment task especially interesting – and useful – to focus on and investigate one aspect of SLA in detail.

TE714 MATERIALS

Further development of my own materials – Yes.  I’m happy to have created some exciting materials (using a variety of texts / sources) that I’ll re-use and develop for different groups and contexts.

Improved skills to continue developing my own materials – Yes, I feel better able to develop (and evaluate) materials in a more time effective and informed way.

OTHER

A great qualification  – Hope so!

Intellectual Stimulation – Absolutely.  It’s been fantastic being a student again.

Pleasure and enjoyment – = intellectual stimulation, so yes.

New friends – Yes

Experience studying more efficiently and effectively – Yes, that’s been an interesting (deutero-) learning curve, which is very relevant to my teaching practice as having been a learner myself, I feel better able to support learners in the classroom.  That said, I really think my teaching would benefit from going back to the (German) language classroom myself, so I hope to make time to do so before too long.


Top tips

Looking back at my blog posts over the course of this module, I’ve put together a handful of top tips – things I believe about ELT that I would advise and discuss with a newer teacher, or things I want to remember.

Capture


More to do:

  • Deliver TD workshops and write an article on the use of Learner Generated Visuals – using the process to further investigate this area.
  • Consider and try encouraging learners to develop Ideal L2 selves and identify models for imitation.
  • Be a language student again.
  • Try more Dogme lessons
  • Try the Silent Way
  • Explore and experiment with Community Language Learning
t1_CityOfGlass

Auster, A., Karasik, P., & Mazzucchelli, D. 2004. ‘City of Glass’ London, Faber. p101.

Coming to the end of this stage of the journey feels less like an ending and more like a beginning; the beginning of a more leisurely – though lasting – period in which to reflect, digest, and further explore.  Being an advocator of diffuse thinking, I look forward to this time with enthusiasm.  I don’t see myself engaging with my work with any less enthusiasm or inquisitiveness than I have during the diploma course, but relish the idea of having more time to explore certain areas in more detail.  The process of finding new paths to learning is ongoing.  As the journey of exploration and investigation continues, ever more intricate details reveal themselves, adding to the repertoire of what we can draw on in the classroom.

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