Reflection is a key element of the teaching and learning process. Teachers reflect on their own and other teachers’ practice, making changes and adjustments as they progress. If we did not reflect on the lessons we teach, each lesson would be the same as those preceding it. The grammar point might change but the methods for sharing knowledge would gradually become fixed, with the result of a teacher stagnating or stuck in a rut. Teaching is not something you can learn in its entirety by doing a course. This is because the world of education and its sub-worlds, such as that of EFL/ESOL/EAL (delete as appropriate for your context), is always growing and changing. It is not a fixed body of knowledge that we are dealing with. Methodologies are coined, debated and adapted all the time. Ideas are born every day. And, of course, the development of technology brings its own ream of changes into this equation. If we are blinkered to the changing world around us, how can we grow as teachers?
For my final two weeks at my current school (we will call it LC – Language Centre!), I have been cast as the institutional clown-come-white-skinned-marketing-device. This is due to a new cycle of classes starting too soon before I’m due to leave LC, to merit giving me my own classes. I have managed to turn this into a learning opportunity by using my new-found freedom from the course book to experiment with various ideas and approaches that I have picked up via twitter, and the wealth of links it has led me to. In order for this to have value, of course, it has been most necessary that I reflect on my practice and identify areas for improvement as well as successful elements.
For the first two of these lessons, each one hour in length, one of younger teenagers and one of older teenagers, I used two articles (taken from the Macmillan Spotlight series for teenagers, on Onestopenglish.com) as the base from which to build. The warm-up consisted of the students brainstorming in pairs about what we usually find in newspapers and in magazines. Next, I put the two articles on opposite sides of the room and had the students gist read each and decide which they thought to be the more interesting of the two. They then used the article of their choice to fill in a speaking game rubric, taken from Kalinagoenglish’s blog, in pairs. (http://bit.ly/j8oMJRg)
Each pair then used their notes to describe their article to the rest of the class. This was followed by some vocabulary work (students were invited to identify language they had not met before, which we analysed together. I tried to guide their understanding of it by drawing attention to prefixes and suffixes, parts of speech, position of the word in the article’s example sentence and so on.). Finally, the students shared words in the article that they liked, which I wrote on the board in a spider diagram with “words we like” in the centre, and I gave them the challenge of using all of these words in a short story.
Something I discovered was that my prolonged period of being chained to the course book initially had a negative effect on my ability to respond to emergent language. (Being used to the course book defining the target language and structures in advance, in those first two lessons I was too slow to latch on to students’ structures, sticking instead to a comfort zone at word level). I was also not satisfied with the warmer, it seemed rather too abrupt of a start. However, it did succeed in engaging the learners so was not a complete failure.
The second two of these lessons (both for younger teenagers and different from the previous day’s lot) took place the following day (the remainder of the above day was spent teaching a class of mine that is still running and doing games with another group, as specially requested by the teacher) and so I was able to reflect on the first lessons and adapt them for use the following day. My goals were to improve upon the warmer and make a better go of capturing and dealing with emergent language structures. I chose some new articles, which I took from a great little website of “quirky” news articles (http://web.orange.co.uk/p/news/quirkies), and, having read a few links about using images and context, or lack thereof, in the classroom, decided to lift the photo out of each article and blow it up to A4 size. These provided the stimulus for a new warmer.
So, on day two, I opened the first class by showing the students these now A4-sized photos and encouraging discussion around what they were of, what was unusual about them and what kind of news story they could have been taken from. There were some excellent suggestions! This set the stage for bringing out the articles, with the photos embedded in their respective article and letting the students see what the news actually was. Again, they were encouraged to choose which article most interested them and the speaking rubric was used. This time, though, I was able to pick up on emergent language more easily and ended up with a board full of it, which we went through, drilled and then manipulated for some practice. Following this was the vocabulary work and the short story challenge. This class went one up on this, though: they attempted (and succeeded!) to use all the vocabulary in a single sentence!! The results were an amusing way to round off the lesson. The second class unfolded in a similar fashion.
This exercise in experimentation and reflection would have been of little value without the reflection component. What we learn every day in the classroom is as important as what we teach and should feed into our teaching process via reflection. Perhaps this truth feeds the old adage, “when one teaches, two learn.” For my next lot of classes, I plan to try something new and go through the same process of reflection and growth that I have used for those discussed above. Hopefully by the end of this two weeks, I will come away having grown as a teacher rather than simply having become more adept at putting on a red nose.