After ten months of my PLN (I started blogging in February 2013, and joined Twitter a few months later) I am still in a very enthusiastic mood, and even more interested in improving my language skills and my teaching than before. Joining Twitter was a new and really exciting experience for me because it is one of the most dynamic, fun, and informative social media. The best thing about blogging and Twitter is the possibility of finding some like-minded people from all parts of the world with whom you can enjoy chatting and sharing your knowledge, thoughts and ideas.
As I have been reading some very insightful and thought-provoking blog posts, and thinking and reflecting on various views regarding teaching and learning, I have to admit that I am somehow confused (a lot of contradictory thoughts) at the moment and not really sure about anything. Hence, my main aim in this post is just to clarify my thoughts on teaching without any intention to give advice to other English language teachers.
I see teaching/learning as a sort of journey, and it depends on us how interesting and exciting this journey will be. If we are curious and enjoy exploring some new places and pathways, our journey will be a real pleasure. I also believe that we (as teachers) have to do our best to motivate our students to set off on this journey (of learning). Learning can be really effective only if our students are inquisitive and engaged in discovering some new things by themselves. I do not believe in education system where learning is imposed on students, and where creative and critical thinking are discouraged by the system of assessment and teaching to the test.
Teachers should focus much more on the learning process in class and they should be flexible and willing to adapt their methodology to their students’ way of learning. Teachers are responsible for creating environment that promotes learning and for helping students manage and direct their own learning. Good teachers actively seek feedback on their students’ understanding. Such feedback tells them how to adapt their teaching to better get the point across. They are good at monitoring student learning problems and assessing levels of understanding and progress. They also help students build skills of self-assessment.
It is of a great importance to provide adequate and timely monitoring and feedback. For example, if we get our students to practice speaking (i.e. the focus is on fluency), we do not need to correct them while speaking (and this is not useful at all because they do not pay any attention to these corrections then). I prefer writing down the most noticeable mistakes they have made and I usually provide feedback later by giving them some incorrect sentences in order to correct them as a class, and then we discuss the mistakes/corrections. Some typical mistakes my students make because they translate literally from Serbian into English are:
incorrect: How long do you know Marko? (correct: How long have you known Marko?)
incorrect: The snow is falling. (correct: It’s snowing.)
Then, I try to explain to them that in order to speak correctly they should learn English phrases and how the words are used, and they should understand the different logic of the English language. I usually use grammar/vocabulary/pronunciation drills in order to improve their accuracy and boost their confidence while speaking.
Teachers also need to develop knowledge and skills necessary to self-observe, self-analyze, and self-evaluate their own teaching acts. Reflecting on teaching, identifying problems, finding solutions, and trying them out to see once again what works and what does not, is essential if we want to develop as teachers. I have always believed in non-anonymous feedback as a more effective way to identify a problem (if it exists) and find solutions. I have never insisted, however, that my students write their names if they do not want to. A friendly talk after the feedback is very important, in my opinion, because it shows that I really care about improving my teaching. It also creates an atmosphere of trust and means that I respect my students’ opinion. However, we should be very skilled in explaining to our students that the purpose of feedback is to enhance our teaching, and also, we should be very self-confident when explaining to them that we will not change some things they think that should be changed, just because of that reason. For instance, some of my students have often insisted on grading them just on reading and translating a text. These students are usually very inactive and not interested in learning English, and although they have a very poor vocabulary they would be able to learn somehow the translation (some other students do for them) by heart. And, I have always tried to explain to such students that this is utterly useless, and insisted on teaching to them how to use some useful phrases in everyday conversation. Non-anonymous feedback is also more effective, because it is very important who gives feedback; I will always pay much more attention and value much more the opinion of hard-working students who regularly attend classes.
When asking for students’ feedback I usually get them to finish the sentences:
I like when my English teacher ……………..
I don’t like when my English teacher ……..
I would change ………………………………….
I would not change …………………………….
Learning English is ………………………………
I have always had in mind that lowering my standards in order to get better results is obviously easier, but not an expert way of teaching. When I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I always attempt to provide relevant tasks and Demand High, I wanted to say that I usually focus on the activities in the course book I find relevant for my students. When planning my lessons I think a lot about the way I’ll present the grammar/vocabulary point, which questions I am going to ask my students, how I can kindle their imagination, encourage them to think in English, etc. From my own experience students are often much more engaged in conversation if I ask them some personalized questions, i.e. if they discuss the topics they are emotionally involved and interested in. Demand High does not mean that we should give tasks which are much above our students’ level and overload them with a lot of homework. It means that our students need to be constantly urged to engage deeply and meaningfully with tasks and subject content.
My New Year Resolutions
- I will try to focus much more on the way my students are learning.
- I will make reflection part of the lesson (I have not had enough time for this so far) and ask my students what they like or do not like about the activities they are doing.
- I will find more time to advise my students how to revise and recycle what they study in class.
- I will try to motivate my students to read books in English (e.g. books which are graded and written for learners at their level).