Thinking of correction

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Let this picture be a reminder that we, teachers, have life outside classroom too :-)!

Yes, it’s snowing. Huge, intricate and soft flakes swirling towards the ground, knitting a beautiful white blanket for the nature. Yesterday, while snowshoeing in the fairytale-like forest, I stopped now and then just to listen and hear the quiet, yet deep sigh of relief nature all around me heaved. 

These hours spent in pure bliss are my life savers. They come to aid me to air the stuffy brain, to make space for new and healthier thoughts (or no thoughts at all!), to help me take a distance from school so that I can see more clearly, see from above, see without the noise.

These last weeks have been extremely busy. The month of January froze the nature outside but got my creative juices flowing abundantly. Maybe it’s the decision to retake more active part in PLN doings, maybe it’s my regular yoga practice, maybe the wonderfully inspirational books I’ve been recently reading, but lots of classroom ideas have knocked at my door and helped to invigorate the teaching-learning adventure in my classes. I hope to be able to write about some of the new ideas in my next post.

Teacher training is in full swing as well, and working with my absolutely amazing colleague (let’s be honest, we are both trainers and learners in that story) has brought into light lots of questions, doubts, ideas. After many hours spent in the teacher training institute going over theories, methods, techniques, we are now actively visiting each other’s lessons and reflecting on the experience.

Last week my colleague was sitting in on two of my lessons, and although many teachers may feel reluctant and fearful towards being observed, I find this practice extremely useful and even enjoyable. I’ve even noticed that being so fully immersed in my lessons, I pretty much immediately forget there’s someone additional in class. So, honestly, when it comes to classroom work I don’t feel the difference whether someone external’s there or not. What’s more, last week I noticed something new in my attitude towards classroom observation. In the second lesson quite a few hiccups came to spice up the lesson; I mispronounced a student’s name, instructions were not very well understood, feedback was far from perfect, and timing didn’t work out the way I had planned. But I didn’t feel disappointed or frustrated in the end. Instead, we sat down with the other teacher and reflected on all that had come to pass. It was one of the most fruitful discussions I’ve had for quite a while, because it was about a REAL lesson, it was about a lesson I teach whether there’s someone in class or not.

One of the questions that arose was classroom correction and feedback. Students had to do an exercise on first conditional which was followed by a whole class correction. I asked students to read the sentences so that we could correct their work together. But this kind of work is often rather unsatisfactory. Students read silently, some literally mumbling into their collars and me, silly me, rushing to echo to make it move on faster and make sure that everyone hears the correct answer. Okay, it didn’t take up too much of the classroom time, but this rather tedious and painful procedure made us, my colleague and me, to wonder how to improve this part of classroom work. Imagine, you ask your students to do an exercise in order to put into practice newly acquired language and then you have to offer further support correcting what’s been done. HOW? Simply reading the exercises can be a real pain in the neck with lots of quiet students. What are the options?

To begin with, I don’t consider not correcting an option. Certainly not. I know that my students want to verify their answers and if I were a student in a language school I would get extremely cross if no correction was offered.

One of the things I sometimes do is write the correct answers on a hidden part of the blackboard and display them once students have finished. But I don’t always have the time before a lesson to get ready like that.

I have also asked students to work in small groups making sure there’s always one higher level student  to lead the discussion. Whenever students disagree, I’d go and check with them. But this option too has its drawbacks. What if students agree on an incorrect option and are perfectly happy with that?

What other options are available? How do you correct exercises as a class? How do you train your students to speak up?

As usual I’d be very grateful for your feedback.

It’s still snowing …

New year resolutions are so not cool … here are mine!

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(when I was out contemplating this post)

In two days time the new semester begins and even though it’s not a new school year, it is in a way a new beginning. And I’m personally extremely fond of new beginnings. Suddenly everything seems possible. It’s new, it’s a start, so ‘hey’ I could give it another, a fresh go and do much better than before. Sweeping all my weaknesses and failures aside, there is one thing I am good at – getting back on my feet and trying again. And nowhere is it as obvious as in my professional life. I might walk out of a classroom holding back tears, drive home swearing never to step in front of a classroom again, bang my head on the desk and solemnly promise to find a new vocation (because of being such a miserable and incompetent teacher!!! – you know, those days), but let the sun rise a couple of days later, and there I am, all bright and bushy, ready to kick some a****, help my students in new and inspiring ways.

At the end of the last semester I didn’t merit much of an applause, probably a couple of claps, but no standing ovation, oh no. To put it bluntly, I couldn’t wait for the Xmas break to liberate me from the unsatisfactory situation I found myself in. I didn’t feel comfortable, happy, energetic wearing my teacher hat. Somewhere along the way I had taken a bad turn and was feeling strangely lost. I knew I can perform so much better, I still remembered the feelings I COULD savour during and after positive lessons, but the gap between those moments and the current lessons was widening and I panicked.

But I have also learned that panic is temporary. While in turmoil, it’s certainly not the time to take any ultimate decisions or brand myself this or that. It’s like a hot soup you need to wait to cool down a little before eating. These two Christmas weeks have been exactly that, cooling down and letting my hunger and eagerness grow. To give myself a friendly push, I thought it would be a good idea to think of some objectives I could aspire for during this coming semester. Or like I say in the teacher training sessions, while preparing your lesson plan, don’t only write lesson aims for your students, write also what your personal objectives are.

So here they are, my new teaching year aspirations.

Assessment

Keep looking for new and alternative ways to assess my students’ performance. My previous post was all about that. Some ideas are already stirring in my head, so let’s hope I can travel much further on this new road of fair and varied assessment.

PLN is precious

It’s so easy to drift away. We all have busy lives comprising work, families, hobbies, all kinds of responsibilities. So it’s only natural that keeping up with PLN doings is not always self-evident. I have had shorter and longer moments of letting go and wandering on my own. Yet every time I come back and find  again the old (and new!) enthusiastic teachers from all over the world I always wonder how I got along without them 😉

So I wish to have the energy and time to keep up with my PLN, to learn from all these wonderful educators, to share my own modest thoughts and cherish the inspiration.

Teacher talk

Simply put – stop blabbering! Putting some sensible limits to teacher talking time is a continuous objective of mine. I do hope / believe I’m getting better. But there are still those I-get-carried-away moments in class when I use way too many words to get pretty short messages across. So, yep, choosing my words more carefully and avoid confusing verbal detours.

Vocabulary lists

Till recently I had an uneasy relationship with the idea of vocabulary lists. I used to believe that it’s up to students to make theirs. I encouraged my students to note down new words. After all, teaching in such mixed-level classes it seemed only normal that every student has a different vocabulary list. However, after reading Philip Kerr’s wordlists blog, this post by Ceri, and reflecting on student end-of-the-semester feedback, I feel change is underway. As usual, keep tuned 😉

Healthy person makes a healthy teacher

We teach who we are. And I want to be full of energy and inspiration. I know from previous experience that if I take the time to care for myself, I am definitely better prepared to give a helping hand to others. So in order to keep my own humble self growing and developing I MUST do things which nourish me. I hope to be able to read more (MUCH more … I can actually feel the desert advancing in my head and soul whenever I neglect reading for too long). I want to watch more films, too. And last but not least mens sana in corpore sano. Keep running, keep running! And remember to do your daily 5 Tibetan Rites 🙂

And you, do add one aspiration of yours into the comment section!

Magic or maddening teachers

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Our last training session was an inward journey. We went to look for answers (questions too) in the untrodden patches of ‘our-world’, these distant corners we rarely acknowledge as our busy lives seal them off. To get to these rich sources, you have to dig a little. Unwrap layers, think or write them thin so that the dormant answers can surface to surprise you.

We teach who we are … and who we fail to be. Teachers are like spirits hovering in the classroom making magic or madness happen. Not necessarily directly, not by spraying stuff right into students’ faces, but by diffusing feelings, attitudes and beliefs that silently seep into the learners. Most teachers leave an imprint, some deeper, some barely recognizable traces. And these traces are tightly intertwined to who we are or who we fail to be.

In our last seminar we travelled back in time and tried to remember the teacher we’d appreciated a lot. My colleague talked about an ‘ugly’ bottle-glassed teacher who wore the same old tweed jacket year in and year out, combed his hair in a funny way and was young and old at the same time. But, his lessons were always calm, well-structured and had the magic capacity to make the learners feel at ease and confident. I was intrigued and asked my colleague to dig a little deeper. What else could she remember? What about the voice? The gestures? Sanctions? How did he correct the students? How did he give feedback? And that’s where my colleague remembered that he didn’t even talk that much. He was calm, reassuring, more like an all-embracing scaffolding helping students raise to their own feet. He didn’t need to go into sanctions as students hardly misbehaved. They had no need to provoke limits as these were so well defined. From what the other teacher said I could only conclude one thing – that tweed-clad teacher was solid as a rock. He harbored so much self-confidence and calm he didn’t need to mess around with limits or naughty learners. Because the learners felt calm and self-confident too. How powerful is that!

And then I remembered a teacher we used to fear and hate in the secondary school. Even more, we loathed him because of the way he made us feel, how he pushed us into a corner, how he enjoyed being superior and tyrannical. His weapon was fear, and he had acquired quite a mastery of it. But now, looking back, I am sure that fear was not simply a tool he used, fear had enveloped him, fear was eating him from the inside. He could find and manipulate our fears because it was all too familiar to him. He knew fear. He knew it so well he could smell it from far and coax it into the daylight, twist it, play around with it. He was suffering from fear and thus, teaching with fear.

But I also remember a university lecturer, an Irish woman, who was poetry to me. Poetry and words and rhythm and love of literature. She had such a frail figure but powerful mind and feelings. I will never forget the time she brought a book by Doris Lessing to class and read a passage to us. I can still see how she held the book, how she turned the pages with her long and slender fingers, how her voice and body and breathing got captured by the story, how she forgot everything but the book. And I knew I wanted to be poetry too. I knew she had touched, stirred something very, very deep inside of me. The ice had began to melt and I discovered I had loves and passions in me that had lain dormant till that day.

What will I stir in my students? What will I coax into the daylight? How do I make them feel? Can I say that? Can I see that? My students will maybe tell me one day. But till then I will take care of myself as a human being who has passions and loves and interests. I will nurture the good, the hopeful, the soulful sides in me hoping they’ll shine through.

If you want to become a better teacher, start by taking care of yourself as a person … because in the end you teach who you are … or fail to be.

Zoom in

Anna’s beautifully honest post on self analysis made me pace from one end of the kitchen to another while I was mumbling to myself, ‘What’s in here for me?’ ‘How can I use it? Oh, come on, inspiration, I feel there’s stuff in here I can use!’

And use it I can, definitely! It made me think of the upcoming teacher training sessions I am honored to conduct again this year. It’s the sequel to last year’s seminars, which were my first to plan and run. I loved that new project, new teaching / learning adventure that unfolded during the sessions. Loads was shared and analyzed. We pondered on discipline, took apart lesson plans, evaluated each other’s evaluation techniques, studied methods, tasks, attitudes. So in a way, I think, these seminars created rather a neat whole by the end and if the course had stopped there, it would have already been quite a satisfaction for both of us, my trainee and me.

However, as it is a two-part training course, I have one more sequence of seminars to plan. And that’s where Anna’s daring reflections lent themselves to long-awaited inspiration and motivation. I am incredibly lucky to have as my first trainee a wonderful teacher who is on the same wave length with me. We’ve got to know each other pretty well, we are comfortable in each other’s company and both eager to grow and develop as teachers. And even though I am officially the trainer, I can honestly say, learning is definitely mutual when we get together.

So having said all that, what if we turned the regular teacher training a little upside down and started from within ourselves? What if, instead of our students and lessons, we zoomed into ourselves? What if we scrutinized ourselves as teachers?

I have lots of ideas, thoughts, quotes, snippets fighting for attention in my head right now. Questions are bombarding me. Questions like:

How would I describe myself as a teacher?

What am I good at?

What kind of a teacher I dream of being?

What kind of a teacher I would like to have if I were my students?

How would I like to grow? How can I start growing?

It’s all raw and pretty shapeless for the moment. But I am excited about how it’ll turn out. I’m curious and eager to dig deeper into who we are as teachers.

WHAT’S MORE, I am also hoping you could help me just a little bit 😉

Would you mind sharing any posts, articles, books you’ve read on a similar topic. Maybe there was a quote that touched you. I would be grateful for all inspiration!

I, on the other hand, promise to share the adventure with you!