One of the most interesting talks I went to at IATEFL 2015 was one that I went to to just hang out with my friends. I was tired, there was nothing particularly inspiring, and so I thought I’d just wander into ‘Lessons Learned as a Language Learner’ by Jo-Ann Delaney and Madeleine du Vivier because basically my friends were going there, it was right next to the entrance and I couldn’t really be bothered to sort out another talk to go to. I’m so glad I went. I didn’t think it would be that relevant for me because it was about exploring trainer beliefs, but really I felt it could be applied to any teacher and getting them to reflect on their teaching style. This workshop allowed me to reflect on my teacher training, but also on my own teaching, though not in the way I think was intended and probably not in the same way others who went to the workshop would have reflected at all.
Reflection as a Teacher
In this workshop we were given a set of teacher beliefs, asked to rank them as not important, important or essential, and then to discuss with people around us. I loved this stage because it got me reflecting on why I do things in the classroom. Then Jo-Ann and Madeleine told us about their experience as elementary Spanish learners and showed how this changed their beliefs. So interesting.
Here’s the list they gave us to rank:
- Learners should engage with the meaning of a written or spoken text before they do any language work.
- Teacher should provide controlled practice of pronunciation through repetition and drilling.
- Classroom tasks and resources should be authentic.
- Learners should work in different pairs/groups in a lesson.
- Whole group questions should be asked randomly.
- It is good for stronger and weaker learners to work together and encourage peer teaching.
- Praise is important for motivation.
- Be aware of physical features of the learning environment. e.g. heat, light, furniture layout
- It is important to always use the target language even with a monolingual group.
- There should be a variety of tasks and input.
And here’s what they found:
- Before doing their Spanish course, they both believed this to be important but not essential. After, though, they deemed it essential. As learners, they really wanted to engage with texts and talk about meaning, not just move on quickly to exploit the language point.
- This also changed from being important to essential. They really wanted more pronunciation drilling.
- This shifted from essential to not important. They didn’t care if the resources or tasks were authentic.
- It’s essential to change pairs because they got bored always talking to the same person.
- They disagreed about whether students should be randomly nominated because one of them wanted time to prepare while the other liked being put on the spot.
- They started thinking this was essential, but changed their mind to not important, and even suggested the idea that peer teaching benefited the stronger student was rubbish. They wanted to work with someone of the same level. If they were stronger, they hated having to explain to someone weaker, but they found it frustrating to be the weaker student as well.
- Praise is extremely motivating. This changed from important to essential.
- The physical environment is so important, more than you might think. Their beliefs went from not important to essential.
- They disagreed on this one as well. One wanted only Spanish, but the other wanted more English explanations.
- They wanted a variety of tasks and input, changing their views from important to essential.
To sum up, they thought all teachers and trainers should do a short course in another language. We need to be more aware of our assumptions because they can end up being prescriptive without us really understanding why we do the things we do.
Reflection as a Trainer
I really enjoyed how this session was presented and so thought back to it several times when planning workshops for other teachers at my centre. What makes a good workshop? Why was this one so enjoyable for me? Two main things I think:
1. A good workshop allows teachers to talk about their own teaching. I mean, what teacher doesn’t like talking about their classes, students, methods, lessons, etc?
2. A good workshop has a ‘take-away,’ something you can use in future lessons or something that makes you think about what/why/how you teach.
Reflection as a Learner
I found this talk so inspiring that I wanted to try reflecting from the learner’s perceptive. And so I enrolled in a beginner’s Spanish course. Actually, in all honesty, I was thinking of studying a bit of Spanish anyways, but this talk gave me a bit of the push I needed as well as more of a structure for evaluating my experience as a learner (rather than from just my own over-critical teacher’s perspective). More to come in a future blog post 🙂