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Planning for Chaos

August 23, 2014

This is a slightly longer version of an article that first appeared in the IATEFL ES(O)L SIG Newsletter, Issue 2 (July 2014). It draws heavily on the content of the workshop I did at IATEFL earlier this year, and also repeats some stuff I have written in previous posts on this blog. But if you want to know what I think about lesson planning and teacher training courses this is probably the best thing to read. 


Planning for chaos: a call for realism in teacher training

I expect most of us have some quite vivid memories of our initial teacher training course. I particularly remember spending hours on end over my lesson plans – agonizing over the wording of stage aims, timing each activity down to the last 30 seconds, scripting exactly what I was going to say, writing detailed analyses of specific grammar points etc. Later in my career, as a CELTA trainer, I saw my trainees going through the same processes, spending days (literally) putting together a 1-hour lesson – then going on to work in full-time jobs that allowed them a fraction of that time for planning.

This led me to question the value placed on the planning process in TESOL courses. Why do we put trainees through this ordeal when they won’t spend anything like as long on lesson planning after they qualify? Does this rigorous approach actually encourage teachers to focus on the right issues? Is it even possible to predict what learning will take place in a lesson anyway?

In this article I argue that a heavy focus on lesson planning, in the way it tends to be done on teacher training courses, is unhelpful, even detrimental, as a means of developing effective ESOL teachers. I will also relate this argument to a more general mismatch between theories of language acquisition and common approaches to language teaching. I will then propose an alternative approach to lesson preparation that is more realistic and which encourages teachers to focus on the actual job of teaching.

We are probably all familiar with the argument that spending hours planning lessons during training does not adequately prepare teachers for the day-to-day environment they will find themselves in. Teachers are busy people and there are simply not enough hours in a week to plan lessons in the way we are trained to plan. The counter-argument to this is that a detailed focus on a single lesson forces teachers to go through certain processes that will prove useful in their future careers, such as identifying language aims, devising effective instructions and checking questions, or becoming aware of the purpose of certain activities.

It is also argued that new teachers need a detailed lesson plan in order to get through a lesson. It gives them direction, focus, something to rely on, and basically stops them from going “off-message” and doing something that might actually impact negatively on their learners’ progress. There is therefore a need to spend hours planning lessons during training courses, because newer teachers need to plan more.

But why do newer teachers need to plan more? Maybe part of the reason is that we trained them to plan more. If effective on-the-spot clarification and improvisation in the classroom are qualities that experienced teachers have, then surely these are qualities we need to encourage in trainee teachers. Assuming this is impossible for them and forcing them to use an alternative (the “crutch” of the lesson plan) does nothing to develop key skills and qualities that are used and valued by experienced teachers. If anything, it leaves them unprepared and unable to deal with the many issues that inevitably arise during lessons.

This practice of conditioning teachers to rely on their lesson plans can have other negative effects. It can lead to a belief that a carefully thought-out lesson plan will inevitably lead to a good lesson; all the teacher needs to do is follow the plan and everything will work out fine. This can cause complacency, devaluing the role of the teacher during the lesson. As I have previously mentioned, experienced teachers learn to become adept at responding to learners’ questions and needs, but the notion that it is good practice to spend hours on a lesson plan, in which everything can be predicted and anticipated, and where the items to be taught are dictated by the teacher rather than the students, actively goes against this. We are conditioning teachers to believe that a lesson requires a pre-set agenda, set by the teacher, and the delivery of this lesson should happen at all costs. Students who ask questions that are unrelated to the agenda set by the teacher are regarded as disruptive.

This leads us to the linguistic implications behind the concept of the detailed lesson plan. On most courses (both initial and in-service), teachers are encouraged to base their lessons on pre-selected aims. Language items should be identified in advance, analysed in detail, and then taught in such a way that allows students to demonstrate that they have “learnt” the items. From a trainer’s point of view this is a convenient model to follow as it is measurable; if the students actively use the language items, the lesson can be deemed a success.

The problem is that language learning doesn’t work like this. Groups of students don’t learn the same items at the same time, at the same speed. The notion that languages can be learnt in this way has been discredited for some time. In 1997 Diane Larsen-Freeman stated:

“Learning linguistic items is not a linear process – learners do not master one item and then move on to another.” (Larsen-Freeman 1997: 151)

Learners don’t learn anything that they are not ready to learn. I’m sure most ESOL teachers will be able to back this statement up with anecdotes about how their wonderful clarification stages, replete with carefully thought-through concept questions and beautiful, unambiguous boardwork, were followed by a practice stage in which the students proceeded to completely disregard everything that had just been clarified.

Not only is the order of learning unpredictable, but even if a student does learn an item in the classroom on one day there is no guarantee that it will be acquired in any permanent sense. As David Nunan has put it:

“A learner’s mastery of a particular language item is unstable, appearing to increase and decrease at different times during the learning process.” (Nunan 2001: 192).

Again, classroom experience in ESOL shows us how learners may seem to “get” language items on one day and then go on to use them incorrectly again in subsequent lessons. We certainly cannot assume that teaching an item once means we never need to focus on it again. I find myself constantly recycling language and re-clarifying items. This isn’t because I taught it badly in the first place, and it isn’t because my students are bad learners – they’re just learners.

When commonly held views on language acquisition are applied to a group context, the idea that all students will learn the same specific items as chosen by the teacher becomes even more ludicrous. This point was made by Jane Willis back in 1996:

“Spending twenty minutes on presenting and practising one single structure to perfection is likely to benefit only the very few learners who happen to be ready to use it. Some may know it already and it might be beyond the grasp of the rest. For these students, such practice is largely a waste of time.” (Willis 1996: 15)

Basically, encouraging teachers to identify specific grammar or vocabulary items, and to create lessons designed to present and practise them, perpetuates an approach to teaching that has been discredited for many years. And yet this is exactly what teacher training courses do. This is indicative of a broad misconception that still remains in our profession – the misconception that learning and teaching is neat and tidy.

When criticising the way ELT coursebooks present language as discrete items, Scott Thornbury recently made this comment:

“Construed as ‘mcnuggets’, grammar offers a means of disguising the inherently chaotic and idiosyncratic nature of language learning, rendering it instead as systematic, predictable, manageable and, ultimately, testable.” (Thornbury 2014)             

The reluctance to accept the chaotic nature of language learning helps to explain why training courses persist with this outdated approach to lesson planning. The pretence of measurability and control that Thornbury describes is also apparent; trainers want to be able to measure the success of lessons, and focusing on specific items allows them to do this. But, as Thornbury, Willis, Nunan, Larsen-Freeman and many others have previously claimed, language learning just isn’t like that.

So, language learning is a chaotic and disorganized process, and teachers have no real control over the language items that their students are learning. But this doesn’t mean we should all give up and go home. There is plenty that we can do as teachers to help students to acquire language more effectively. I would suggest though that the focus should be less on what happens before the lesson and more on what happens in the lesson. Therefore, rather than evaluating a teacher’s performance on their ability to execute a plan, training courses should develop teachers’ skills in reacting positively to critical incidents and maximizing learning opportunities as they occur in the classroom. Developing an ability to exercise “professional judgement” (Tripp 1993) is highly valued in generic teacher education programmes, but less so in TESOL courses.

By advocating a heavier focus on classroom-based activity I am not suggesting that we should stop planning altogether. Preparation should take place, but it needs to take into account the fact that different students will be taking different things from the lesson content. I have previously used the term “preflection” (Brown 2013) to describe this mindfulness in lesson planning, and which regards planning as a process rather than a product.

The process of preflection can be facilitated through asking key questions, such as:

  • Can I identify a real-world task (not a language task) that all students are capable of achieving?
  • Does this reflect my learners’ needs, goals and motivations for learning?
  • Am I making the best use of the materials for this particular group?
  • What language could the students learn along the way?
  • How can the students guide the lesson stages?

Focusing on these questions allows the teacher to design lessons that are appropriate for their learners, rather than prioritising specific language. The lesson can still have an aim, but it is an aim related to the learners’ real lives, rather than a piece of language that the students may or may not be ready to learn.

Below is a list of principles that I have gradually found myself following as I have developed as a teacher:

  1. Don’t be a slave to the materials. 

I know my students, the materials writers don’t. Doing an activity just because it’s there is simply wrong. It’s also wrong    to assume that materials have to be used in the way the writers intended.

  1. Think about where the lesson could go, rather than where you want it to go.

I’ve had some very productive lessons in which I allowed the learners to take things in a direction I hadn’t expected. If they are motivated to discuss a particular topic or spend time on a certain activity, I’m not going to discourage this.

  1. Don’t just expect the unexpected – relish it.

If language learning is chaotic and the students are all learning different things, unanticipated incidents are          inevitable. It’s important to be OK with this.

  1. Be on the lookout for learning opportunities, and be ready to exploit them.

Not having a language aim doesn’t mean I don’t teach language. It just means I teach the language that the students need, when they need it, rather than items I decided on beforehand. The important thing is for learning to take place, and this is more likely to happen if the students are given space to identify where the gaps are in their language.

  1. Sometimes it’s best to just wait and see.

 You can’t always be sure how students will respond at certain points in a lesson. Building “empty stages” into a plan means I am more likely to respond appropriately than if I had decided on some kind of action in advance.


For experienced ESOL teachers, none of the above ideas are particularly new or revolutionary. But they are not ideas that are seen as good practice on teacher training courses. Why do we train people to teach one way and then teach very differently ourselves? Is it really the case that new teachers must have a plan and can’t react appropriately to learner responses? Or is this inability to react a result of inadequate training?

I certainly feel that if I had been made aware earlier in my career of the principles of teaching that I apply now, I could have become a better teacher more quickly. Maybe, instead of developing experts in writing detailed lesson plans – a skill that is of little use on a daily basis – TESOL courses should aim to develop teachers who are able to respond to their learners and employ techniques that are more in keeping with language acquisition theories.



Brown, S. (2013), Preflection: a (not) new approach to lesson planning, in The Steve Brown Blog, available from [Accessed 11/05/2014]

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997) ‘Chaos/complexity science and second language acquisition’, Applied Linguistics, 18/2, Oxford: OUP.

Nunan, D. 2001, “Teaching grammar in context”, in Candlin and Mercer (eds.) English language teaching in its social context (pp. 191-199), London: Routledge.

Thornbury, S. 2014, Who ordered the McNuggets?, in, available from: [Accessed 30/03/2014]

Tripp, D. 1993, Critical Incidents in Teaching, London: Routledge Falmer.

Willis, J. 1996, A framework for task-based learning, Harlow: Longman.

  1. Hana Tichá permalink

    Hi Steve,

    While reading I realized I’m quite happy I’m not a teacher trainee any more. Your post made me remember all the sleepless nights when I was trying to come up with all the ‘right’ lesson objectives and ‘meaningful’, communicative activities. As I did this kind of training only recently, after almost 20 years of experience in ELT, it was a real nightmare. And yes, it took me days to plan one lesson. Needless to say, I had never taught that way before and I haven’t since.
    I’m not saying this isn’t valuable experience, though. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger after all. Seriously, the trouble is that the trainees don’t plan for themselves; they keep the trainers and their ‘taste’ in mind, not the students. I think the same happens when teachers are observed; they invariably, maybe subconsciously, adjust their style of teaching to please the one who’s got the ‘pass or fail’ tool in their hands.
    I really appreciate the list of principles you’ve developed, especially number 5. I also love your theory of chaos 🙂 Thanks for writing this up.


    • Hi Hana,
      Your comment has made me reflect on my experiences as a CELTA trainer. When I first started, I accepted all the course requirements pretty much unconditionally, and I used to get quite impatient with teachers who already had some experience because they had, in my eyes, developed a lot of “bad” habits. When I went back to CELTA training a few years later, I was more sympathetic as I could understand that much of what they were doing was actually very good. Rather than being frustrated by them, I was frustrated that the course didn’t recognise what they could do well and required them to focus on all these low-level technical skills instead. Sure, a lot of the technical stuff is very useful – classroom management techniques, ways of clarifying language etc. But some of the things that these teachers could do very well – often things that were difficult to put your finger on – were not valued.
      The CELTA was originally designed for inexperienced teachers. Maybe only inexperienced teachers can really benefit from it..?
      I think you make a very good point about who the plan is for. One of the main reasons (in my opinion) that lesson plans are used to measure the quality of teaching is that they give the trainer something to measure the lesson against. Inevitably this makes the teacher write a plan with the observer in mind, rather than the students. This relates to a post that you wrote a few weeks ago about the difficulty in measuring good teaching. Observation and the use of a set of pre-determined criteria is unlikely to give you an accurate reflection.
      I don’t really have any answers about how good teaching can be measured, and to be honest I’m more interested in being a good teacher than being able to measure good teaching. But then how do I know I’m a good teacher if I don’t know how to measure it?
      For now, all I think I can do is create a learning environment that allows people to learn in the way that we think languages are learned. At the moment we seem to be training people to create a learning environment that contradicts our ideas about language acquisition. That can’t be right.
      Anyway, thanks once again for making me think about this from another angle.

  2. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for the article. Very thought-provoking.
    I agree that the CELTA lesson plans are completely unrealistic, and viewing them with the hindsight of a couple of years of experience, it is quite puzzling why we are expected to spend days planning a 60mins lesson, when an experienced teacher does it in anything between 5 minutes to an hour. Perhaps as you mention in the comment above, only inexperienced teachers benefit from the course. Personally, I did think the course helped me a lot, but there was one very experienced teacher on my course who had a lot of ‘bad’ habits and in the end gave up, left and went back to the old job.Similarily, during the DELTA those who did best in our group had the least experience, which probably meant we were the most open to new ideas, and prepared to accept whatever and however the trainers wanted us to teach.
    However, this might go to show that we are expected to teach in a certain prescribed way and prepare appropriately elaborate and long lesson plans, while the trainers know that in real-life we won’t have time for it. As a result, although both the CELTA and the DELTA are very beneficial (I would still recommend them to anyone, prehaps because for want of any sensible alternatives), we might want to think how to refocus their content and assessment to incorporate some of the principles you mention in the blog.
    Hana also made an important point when she said that the trainees and the teachers adjust their teaching style to fit the observer’s ‘taste’ and to tick off all the expected boxes. This actually happened to me last week when I was observed in the university I teach in. I knew we were expected to use ppt or SMART Notebook in our classes but had been quite slack with it. Obviously, I spent a good few hours on preparing a Notebook presentation, hoping the observer would be content (he was). I didn’t think about the students at all, which goes against all principles of good planning.
    Having said that, the dynamics of the class was pretty much the usual, apart from the fact I had to constantly look at the plan to follow the exact activities I had spent so much time devising. Normally, my lesson plans are post-it size at best and I tend to go with the flow, i.e. while having a goal I would like my learners to achieve, I might take a different and unexpected route depending on what happens in the class. So although I prepared the ppt for the observer, and I won’t have time to prepare one for every class, it did have a positive effect on learning. Perhaps then, despite being tedious and all the other disadvantages we have pointed out, CELTA-like planning does have some benefits? For example, you might end uppreparing something with the observer in mind that will actually benefit your learners 🙂
    Thanks again for this post and sorry if I’ve been rambling without too much sense.

    • Hi Marek,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s an interesting idea that those with the least experience are most likely to be successful on these types of courses. Presumably this would be because people with no experience are more malleable – they will take everything they are told at face value and are less likely to question or come up with alternatives. If less experienced people are more likely to succeed, this suggests that these courses are very prescriptive; they don’t allow for a range of approaches. This is odd, as much of the rhetoric surrounding courses like the CELTA is about adapting to the context and exposing trainees to a variety of techniques.
      I like your example of a recent lesson where you used Notebook to please the observer rather than your students. As you say, this does go against some basic principles of planning. I’m glad you can see positives from the experience – although you hadn’t really thought about the students they did benefit from the lesson. It sounded like the benefits were more by coincidence than by design though. Did you need an observer to make you use Notebook? I wonder if anything else could have stimulated you to prepare a lesson like this…
      Best wishes,

      • Hi Steve,
        I think these courses are largely prescreptive, because there is a certain prescribed number of ‘correct’ teaching approaches that you are exposed to and evaluated on. On the other hand, certain other approaches (or unplanned things we might do in the class) are – if not forwned upon – then not encouraged during the observed lesson. It would be very interesting to see a move towards a more ‘realistic’ approach to teaching teaching on the CELTA and the DELTA that you described in the post.
        Having said that, despite all their shortcomings and unrealistic 30 page long lesson plans, I still think – as I wrote in the original comment – that as a teacher you do benefit a lot from doing them. This is not to say that they cannot be improved, and I’d love to see a move towards less planning! 🙂
        Regrding my use of Notebook, after some more reflection, I think that the observer was definitely a trigger that made me spend a few hours planning and preparing the presentation. Although I can see how the use of Notebook had a positive effect on the learning process (e.g. sts were more engaged), to be honest, without such a trigger, it is just not feasible to spend so much time preparing for classes. It could be argued then, that while the observers might not be seeing your real, day-to-day teaching persona, they might actually be observing the special ‘observation’ enhanced teacher, if this makes any sense.
        What do you think?

  3. Hi Marek,
    Yes, I agree that the observer doesn’t get to see the “normal” teacher in action, which of course makes it seem rather odd that in many contexts this type of observation is used to measure the quality of everyday teaching. I understand that the prospect of an observation can act as a “trigger” for teachers to push themselves a bit more, but perhaps this trigger could come from somewhere else. Carefully structured professional development plans, for example?

    • Hi Steve,
      I like that idea. Don’t you think that one-off observations (like mine) are a bit unproductive? Apart from producing quite a bit of stress for the observee, and terrible bags under the eyes, there is not much benefit to them in terms of PD.
      I would definitely been keen to join a well-structured and thought-out PD program. This could include some (and more) of the following elements:
      1. initial meeting for needs analysis
      2. initial observation to establish some relevant PD objectives
      3. post-obesrvation discussion to select the most relevant PD objectives and agree on an action plan
      4. help from the observer to carry out the action plan
      5. a final observation and discussion to reflect on the PD program
      6. modify and adjust the program accrodingly to the results of 6
      7. set new goals (or continue with the previous ones)
      Any thoughts?

      • Marek, I’m really sorry I only just noticed your comment. I do agree that a one-off observation by someone from outside the institution you work in can only have limited benefit, if any. However, I also agree that observation can be used very positively as part of a professional development plan. I did write a post ages ago about the benefits of being observed ( and bemoaning the fact that in the Scottish Further Education sector the opportunities for this are severely limited. Your procedure creates a template for very useful critically reflective practice that would really focus on the teacher’s developmental needs, rather than whether or not they meet some externally-imposed criteria, or whether they demonstrate a teacher’s ability to write detailed lesson plans. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to develop these ideas further and, if possible, see if you are able to implement them in any way. Good luck!

  4. Hi Steve,
    Thanks. Would love to although not sure when I might get a chance to put these ideas into practice. Been freelancing for over a year now, but perhaps when I work in a language school next time.
    Might work them into a blog post, though. Will send you a link if I do.

  5. CARLOS ESTRADA permalink

    Man, It’s like you can see into my heart and mind!! Great piece! Couldn’t agree more…

  6. Nicky Salmon permalink

    Hello Steve
    I have been doing a lot of thinking since you posted on in reply to my post -‘how to write a lesson plan’.
    I have listened again to Adrien Underhill’s interview at IATEFL Manchester and read your post above several times.
    I’m reflecting more and more on the possibilities within the framework of CELTA/Trinity TESOL initial certificate courses that I work on. How can I build in and support less rigidity, more listening and so more willingness to react to learners? – what Underhill’s calls the ‘offers’.
    I know I have encouraged the use of the ‘flexi stage’ in plans but I don’t think that goes far enough and it also tends to be for the stronger trainee and later on in the course when they seem more relaxed.
    On my next course I will be teaching 2 lessons for trainees to observe. I think I’ll start there by putting in some ‘open stages’. The first of these lessons is on day one of the CELTA and so an excellent time to introduce the idea of a more flexible plan.

    What else? I know I’m asked by trainees, with fear in their eyes….’What happens if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer?’
    If that’s about language, I’ll often suggest that they thank the learner, appologise if they don’t know and promise to come back to them later with an answer/example.
    There is also the student who has their own agenda and asks questions or for information which doesn’t perhaps relate to topic or focus. This often throws the trainee and makes it difficult for them to make an on the spot reaction. Trainees find this quite stressful sometimes and often refer too this type of student as ‘naughty’!

    There are many more ‘incidents’ like this in a lesson but yes, we do very little talking about the positive possibilities or what these ‘offers’ might lead to.

    I’m not sure I have any answers at the moment.

    In a reflective state.

    • Hi Nicky,
      I’m pleased to hear that you are in this reflective state – that’s always a very productive state to be in. I like your idea of giving the trainees a chance to observe you, and if they observe you teaching a rather loose lesson then a lot of the post-lesson discussion could be based round things like analysing what kind of questions the students asked, and how you responded/reacted to them. As you say, this is often the thing that trainees are most worried about, which is why they are more comfortable when steaming through a rigid plan that they spent hours rehearsing before. If they see you doing stuff on the spot this might help them to identify what options are available for them.
      I have also experienced students who ask lots of questions being perceived by teachers/trainees as Problem Students rather than sources of critical incidents; their questions can often be used as a springboard to another learning point. Sure, all of this may be stressful for trainees, but teaching is stressful, as well as incredibly rewarding. The sooner trainees and new teachers realise the importance of reacting appropriately rather than just pursuing their own agenda, the better. I agree there are ways to incorporate this kind of thinking into the parameters of a CELTA – I think Anthony Gaughan does a lot of good work in this area – but I still think that some fundamental changes to the structure of the course could be very beneficial.

  7. Hi everyone,

    I came across this post through a “comment update” in my inbox this morning from Nicky Salmon’s recent comment. What a great post Steve! I love the ideas you express in it.

    I also like what the others have been commenting. By pure coincidence, I have just been going through a similar process the last few days – not as a trainer, but as a teacher who is being observed.

    I’ve just published this post this morning on my blog about it ( but in short, what happened was I asked the observer if they wanted a lesson prepared for them or to see a real lesson? As they agreed to see a real lesson, they got the following:

    – No lesson plan
    – No aims
    – Some materials
    – One hell of a surprise

    In the past I’ve put on amazing lessons, which they were really pleased with. I use the word “put on” as I’m now starting to think of them as a little bit of a show for the observer. This time, however, they got to see what really happens. They didn’t like everything they saw, but that’s fine, as their comments were truly reflective of my teaching. So much so, it inspired to start working on my Action Points immediately.

    I think there’s space for some genuine observing in Language Teaching. Keeping it real, as Marek likes to put it 🙂

    • Hi Anthony,
      Thanks for this, and for the link to your post, which I just read. I think the thing that strikes me the most from your description of your experience and from the comments on your post is how unusual it is for us to be observed teaching in the way we actually teach. There’s clearly a tacit understanding across our profession that observations, no matter how “realistic” they are intended to be, involve some sort of artifice. This could be a requirement for a detailed lesson plan, or simply the fact that we’re given notice and this somehow means we should have decided on a pre-determined agenda of some kind. But actually, the vaguer our aims are, the more space we create for the students to have input in the lesson content. Somewhere else in my blog you’ll find a post called “why pre-determined language aims are a waste of time (and what we should be doing instead)”, which describes my views on this in more detail.
      I’m sure that the assumption that we all seem to have about observed lessons requiring detailed plans must stem (at least in part) from the fact that we were conditioned at the initial training stage to believe that the more detailed the plan, the more likely that the lesson will be successful. But we’re just perpetuating some weird performative game; the observer says they want us to keep it real, the teachers write a detailed plan and say this is them keeping it real, the observer gets to tick the boxes they need to tick, then we carry on as normal. The fact that you took the observer’s feedback on board this time shouldn’t really be a surprise, as this time you actually got feedback on what you really do, not what you do when you are teaching an “observation lesson”.
      I only get observed occasionally these days, usually by trainees and sometimes by inspectors, but I do try as far as possible to do what I would normally do on that day. I don’t get much of a chance to observe my colleagues unfortunately, but if I do I like to think they do the same for me.
      Anyway, I suppose my point in the above post is that I think such a strong focus on writing lesson plans in initial training courses messes teachers up a bit and makes us take a lot longer to come round to the realisation that lessons are about the students, not the teachers. That’s what we really need to bear in mind, I think.
      Thanks again for your thoughts,

      • Hi Steve,

        I’m now starting to wonder if the whole debate falls down to one of two routes or options:

        (1) Teaching to pre-determined aims: this involves making a lesson which meets those aims, including staging and materials

        (2) Teaching to the learners: going into the lesson with the aim of working on whatever the learners need at that moment, focusing more on reactive teacher rather than pre-emptive teaching

        It’s something I’m going to have to give more bought and experimentation, but it’s really got me thinking now.

  8. Linda Börner permalink

    Hello Steve,

    Thank you for being so thoughtful about teaching and for taking the time to run this blog. As an aspiring teacher, I appreciate your experienced perspective on ELT and the many points you (and commenters here) offer for consideration and reconsideration.

    I took the CELTA course and found it very helpful as an introduction, albeit limited. Now, as I look for my first teaching position, I’m trying to figure out where to look for help in this next stage of my development. Of course I know a lot will come from teaching experience itself, but as you said (somewhere on this site…) in your early years you could have benefited from guidance that could have sped up and fine-tuned your learning teaching process. I am gratefully benefiting from exposure to the ideas in blogs like this one, but do you have any recommendations for more structured resources? E.g. the list of principles you offer here is great food for thought, but as someone just starting out I don’t really know what to ‘do’ with those points. The same is true for so many ideas I read throughout this blog; they sound like great inspiration for teachers who already more or less know what they’re doing, but how do I incorporate them into my limited repertoire so I can ‘build good habits’ from the start?

    I began this comment hoping you would recommend something along the lines of an updated, more nuanced version of Learning Teaching. But the more I think about it, I don’t really know if a book would do. For one, it would be too stagnant; part of what I’m loving about this blog is the flow of ideas. Also, I wouldn’t suggest trying to learn English from a book; why would I think a book could teach me teaching? Maybe I really want another course. The CELTA is short sighted. It’s a *BANG* onto the scene, but then it just drops you there. I would love something that carried on through the first teaching year(s), providing support, feedback, and exposure to alternatives. Or maybe what I really need is to find a mentor.

    Thoughts? Resources? Advice?

    Here’s to hopeful beginnings,

    • Hi Linda,
      I’m really sorry I didn’t reply earlier – I’ve been neglecting my blog lately and I didn’t see your comment.
      I’m pleased that you have found my blog posts interesting and helpful, but I agree with you that reading a particular book or following any form of structured, generic advice can only give you so much. I have a bit of a problem with the prescriptiveness and the generic approach to teaching that is advocated on most internationally-accredited TESOL courses. By attempting to cater for English teachers everywhere they can only include content that is universally relevant, leading to a de-contextualised, one-size-fits-all approach. But of course, anything that is written for a wide audience – including this blog – is going to fall into the same trap.
      I would advise you to continue reading what you can, but also to use your specific teaching context (are you working now?) and critically consider the relevance of everything you read to that context. You’ll probably find that there are certain aspects of your context that are only mentioned in more context-specific literature – if at all. These are the areas where you need to use your own developing teaching experience to start developing your own theories, drawing on whatever relevant existing literature you can find.
      So, I don’t really have much in the way of concrete advice except to use your everyday teaching as the intersection between what you read and what you learn from your learners. You’ll learn an awful lot from them if you are open to this; a lot of new teachers miss out on that as they are so focused on putting into practice the techniques that they have just learned that they forget to consider which techniques will be most useful.
      Not sure if this is helpful in any way – please let me know if you have further questions.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Lesson plans – a waste of time? | teflreflections
  2. Are we wasting time planning our lessons? | Teach them English
  3. Concerning coursebooks | The Steve Brown Blog
  4. Performativity: how measurement, evidence-gathering and accountability are wrecking education | The Steve Brown Blog

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