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What have I learned?

December 14, 2013

I started this blog in January, and I’m currently writing my 49th and last post of 2013. I’ve pretty much managed to do a new post every week, but the holidays are coming up and I also have a rather big assignment to write, so after this post I’m going to give it a break until next year.

I’ve found the whole experience of writing a blog and developing an online learning network very stimulating. Just writing down what is on my mind and getting occasional comments from other professionals has been a great way of crystallizing ideas that have been floating around in my head for a while. So I thought it might be good to share some of the conclusions I have reached over the past year. Previous posts (links included below) explore some of these ideas in more detail, so I suppose you can use this post as a starting point for finding other posts that you might be interested in reading.

1.  I’m not sure what I teach

Is language an academic subject? Is it a practical skill? Is it both? Or is it something else? Learning a language isn’t like learning an academic subject like history; you can’t just memorise stuff and then write about it. So does that mean it’s all about practical application, like baking a cake? And if it is, how do you teach it? You can bake a cake in any language.

2. There’s a lot more to language teaching than teaching language

There’s the skills-based side of things, as mentioned above. So it’s certainly not just about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. But as well as that, we teachers need to remember that language only exists in context. Without context it’s pointless. The contexts we choose to present language in are significant for our students, and we have a responsibility to pay attention to this.

3. The term “Communicative Language Teaching” is meaningless these days

Originally, CLT placed communicative competence above all else. Nowadays, any class that includes some kind of stage where students say something (not always to each other) is described these days as “communicative”.

4. Knowing your learners puts you in a good position to create materials for them

This being the case, maybe we should stop relying on materials written by people who have no idea who our learners are.

5. Lesson plans are overrated

We are conditioned to believe that going into a lesson without a very fixed, pre-conceived idea of what the students will learn is irresponsible. However, the assumption that all of our students will acquire the same narrow set of lexis or grammar that is in the “target language” box of our lesson plan is both naïve and arrogant. Rather than putting in all that effort before the lesson starts, maybe we should work a bit harder during the lesson to ensure we can maximise learning opportunities.

6. As mixed-level groups are inevitable, maybe we should embrace them

Jagged profiles, different learning speeds, the fact that the whole learning process is non-linear anyway – all of these kind of make a nonsense of the notion that we can have classes containing students who are all “at the same level”. So maybe we should consider grouping our classes differently.

7. Demand-high ELT is just common sense

The way Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill describe it, Demand-High seems to be about two things: checking students understand what they’re being taught, and teaching them a bit more than you had originally planned when you think they are able to learn it. Fair enough, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Most experienced teachers do this already. What does need to change is the fact that training courses and the most commonly used lesson frameworks don’t really facilitate this very much.

8. Low expectations can impact on learner progress

I’m really basing this on my own observations, so it’s not exactly reliable or well-documented research. But if teachers expect students to achieve less than they’re capable of, and provide them with input below what they’re capable of, it stands to reason that they’ll end up achieving less than they were capable of.

9. Management is subordinate to leadership

With this in mind, it’s strange that so much importance is placed on classroom management, yet we never really use the term classroom leadership. Teachers need to be effective leaders and I don’t think we explicitly address this enough.

10. Reflection is hard

Well, it is if you want to do it well. Like everything, it’s easy to reflect badly. But in order for reflective practice to have a meaningful and positive impact on an individual’s professional development, or on an organisation’s performance, it has to be very carefully thought out and it can end up being quite a painful (not to say time-consuming) process.

Thanks to everyone for your inspiration and comments over the year. If any of the above make you want to comment more on my posts please go ahead. Otherwise, enjoy the festive season (if you have one coming up) and please visit me again in the new year.

One Comment
  1. swisssirja permalink

    As my own 1-year blog anniversary is coming up, I like reading other bloggers’ reflections on how blogging has either changed or influenced their teaching / reflective practice.
    I can hear an echo of my own thoughts in many of your reflections.
    It’s the first time I have started giving lots of thought on what and when and how students really learn. On how it is definitely NOT linear, and how I have to calm down and stop panicking if they don’t learn what I wanted them to 😉 It’s so much more playful than that!

    I love the idea of a teacher as a leader. I think once we embrace this idea, a lot can change. I personally have turned to many new resources, books, ideas … who am I really in a classroom, what are my responsibilities, how can I create something better. It’s extremely challenging and exciting and hopefully rewarding as well.

    Reflective practice – my big new aha moment of this year! And how to reflect better. It’s such a powerful tool.

    I will write more on everything in my own blog soon.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas, happy blog anniversary and till new blogposts!

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