Here’s a very rare activity sharing post from my part. Rare because I cannot even remember the last time I put out an idea for a task here. Rare because after all the years of on and off blogging, a pattern has started to emerge; I seem to incline more towards reflective writing, sharing the pains and gains rather than offering valuable ideas for interesting activities. So let this post be a sort of reconciliation with the abandoned side.
Having said that, I cannot resist the temptation and fall back into my good old pattern to share some reflections first.
I have been reading Wilma’s blog a lot recently. She’s an amazingly prolific blogger, a feat I find absolutely admirable and enviable, too. In one of her recent posts, she contemplated how the meaning of ‘obvious’ changes over the years. How what seems obvious for us as teachers at first starts to change and grow into something else as our teaching career advances. Anyhow, a passage from Wilma’s response to my comment goes like this,
It’s amazing, and a little scary, what messages we internalize about what a good, effective teacher does and can do. Maybe too many articles about how to motivate your students or how to keep them interested in English?
That struck a chord so violently, I could barely calm down my excitement. Being a recovering perfectionist myself, I used to get sick worrying about how my personal performance in class would motivate my students. Every time they did poorly in test, I first blamed myself for not having taught them well enough. Every time they sat through a lesson passively, I criticized myself for not having enough skills to get them up and dancing. Looking back now I feel almost ashamed for having felt such things. But at the same time, I feel relieved and happy that I have come so far, that I have been able to unearth my limiting fears and beliefs, so that I can tackle and discard them.
So how does all this tie to Wilma’s response? I became an active PLN user years ago, back at a time when I was still suffering intensely from the limiting beliefs I just described. Reading blogs, going to conferences, following other educators on Twitter was incredibly inspiring and motivating, but looking back now I must also admit that there were times when all that ‘brilliant’ advice out there started to undermine my self-esteem as a teacher. After reading all the amazing articles and books on motivation, it was hard not to blame myself when my students weren’t motivated. Following all the wonderful and witty teachers out there, looking at the pictures of their smiling students and colourful classrooms, I couldn’t but feel exhausted after trying so hard to create an ideal working environment, and often failing, reaching a different outcome.
And let me be honest, I did get a sight of the burnout monster, but was fortunate enough to know to take another turn before colliding with the beast.
Being an active social media user I am well aware of the dangers of constant stream of posts from the inspiring others. I have experienced firsthand how insidious all the happy-clappy images can be. With time I have come to realize that many of the books, articles, blogposts and pictures aimed at teachers can actually have a similarly exhausting effect. It can become dangerously overwhelming if we let ourselves get carried away by the intensity of it, if we forget to read and listen through a critical filter, if we lose sight of our particular teaching context.
During a recent conference, I noticed how much more questioning I have grown. If in the past I would have been immediately influenced by many new ideas and techniques, I have become much more cautious now and weigh possible changes twice before implementing them. I have also let go of the belief that it comes down to teacher’s skills and talent to motivate a group. I do not deny the central part it plays, but I am no more blind to all the other variables that come into play. And while I am still an enthusiastic PLN user and get enormous amount of energy and motivation from interacting with other teachers, I am also more aware that there’s no one size to fit them all.
But now the activity I promised at the beginning of the post.
More often than not, when we do a reading activity in class, I come away with an unsatisfying feeling that too much material was left unused, that there were learning opportunities that never germinated. I have tried the banal ‘Any vocabulary questions?’ trillion times, but as you know, most of the time this inquiry is met with silence (even though I am more than certain the text contains lots of new vocabulary).
So yesterday, after reading a fun article on manners, I asked my students to highlight at least five new words / phrases in the text, translate them and then write the English versions on a post-it note.
I collected their notes and while they were busy tackling another task, I wrote the most frequent items on the board. It was interesting to note that 90 percent of the vocabulary was present on all of the notes.
To finish, we translated and analysed the new vocabulary together, put it in context, tried to think of the opposites in case of adjectives etc. I found that the students were reasonably present and active considering it was the end of a long lesson, and I am confident that it comes pretty much down to the fact that we were discussing words they personally had excavated.