Teachers need to prime the pump to find inspiration. Just wishing and reflection aren’t enough. Sometimes, oftentimes an additional stimulus is necessary. I’m always involved in making small modifications to my lesson planning. Most of the modifications are a result of consulting outside sources. Teachers need to be aware of where their sources of inspiration come from.
I keep a journal listing all of the major and minor tweaks I make to both my lesson planning approach and teaching in the class. I consult it before making a new lesson plan. For this blog reflection, I decided to review some of the shifts I have made in my teaching over the last month and, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I traced the origin of what led to these modifications. I conclude the inspiration for whatever modifications I make in my teaching comes from four general sources: a) listening to peers who share illustrations/insights from their practice b) attending presentations related to education c) reading relevant professional literature and d) being in tune with my environment.
Listening to Peers: I regularly attend reflective practice sessions in Busan. Simply listening to the other teachers is the most valuable aspect of the meeting. For example, I heard a colleague mention she asks students to give a 1-10 rating for how well they comprehended the lesson content. I felt that would fit perfectly into my environment. Hence, I subsequently incorporated it.
Attending Presentations: Our KOTESOL chapter recently hosted a presentation from Scott Miles concerning learning and memory. It was a very informative presentation on many levels. Miles talked about the testing effect and spacing effect. Both aid memory retention. Hence, following his presentation (I’ll spare the details), I added the following to a typical lesson: students begin class with a short 3-4 question “quiz” reviewing the content from the previous lesson. After reviewing or introducing a target language item, I have two quick comprehension questions…then at the end of the lesson students complete a five item quiz reviewing the content of the lesson with one question reserved for reviewing content from previous lessons. If structured appropriately, the process takes less than five minutes of class time.
Relevant Professional Literature: These days I in the process of completing a rather eye-opening book not directly related to ELT: Ruth Colvin Clark’s Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals. I got many ideas from Clark’s work, I’ll describe two. Clark mentions “social presence.” This is no-brainer, however, I have neglected it. According to the research Clark presents, being perceived as approachable leads to both higher course ratings from students (this is relevant to the GET/NET in South Korea!), as well as improved learning. Reading this helped push me to take “social presence” a little more seriously. So, I try to get in the room about five minutes before a class begins, get all of my materials set up, then chit-chat with students for about two minutes before the bell rings. Additionally, Clark claims presentations which use a more conversational tone, and specifically, the use of first and second person speech, are more effective than presentations that communicate in a more formal tone. I’m guilty of an excess of formality (as maybe the language in this blog reveals !). So, this led me to revise my materials, specifically I aim for not only a simpler, but more inclusive use of language (using pronouns such as “you” and “we”). I’ve been guilty of beginning class by listing “objectives” and informing students that “students will be able to…” Formal, abstract language often allows me to clarify my thinking. However, that isn’t the best way to communicate with learners, especially middle school students.
Being in Tune with My Environment: This is rather vague. I can only provide an illustration. My students are typically low-level and exhibit signs of low-motivation. Thus, I do a lot of gimmicks to engage them. On occasion, depending if I have surplus time at the end of a lesson, students will complete a word search as a whole class activity. Previously, I would simply say the target vocabulary word and students would give me the appropriate directions to “find” the word. Recently, I began writing the first letter to the target vocabulary word on the white board. Once I did that, many students automatically provided me with the appropriate word. This is low-level, it is the exercise of declarative knowledge. Though a very minor tweak, it is a result of gaining increased familiarity with my students and environment.
It’s important to note that these shifts have only recently been implemented, hence I can’t really comment on their effectiveness, both in terms of learning and overall classroom rapport. In sum, I get the inspiration to modify my instructional methods from a variety of sources. Most of the changes I make in my teaching are a result of the interaction of a pre-existing theoretical and experiential base with stimulating comments from other peers and professionals (in whatever medium of communication). The major lesson is that inert knowledge is unused knowledge. Without adequate stimulation from an outside source we can’t use what we already know. Get involved and get networked.
This is my story. Where do you find your sources of inspiration?
Clark, R.C (2010). Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals. Alexandria, Va: American Society for Training and Development.