Questions for discussion kind of post.

Today’s blog post is not a typical post. It’s not even a paragraph-blogging kind of post. Rather it’s an invitation to discuss some questions that are on my mind today, so much that I can’t handle thinking of them alone. 

If you have something to say, I’d love to read your opinion in the comments below.

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Topic: A teacher’s responsibility for students’ successful performance.

Questions:

1. How responsible are teachers for students’ successful performance of the target language they teach?

2. When do you know/feel you’ve done everything in your power to help students use the language?

3. How much control do/should teachers have over students’ ability to produce the desired output? 

4. In the case of a rigid, institution-imposed assessment system, what should govern us more, our own beliefs about what “successful performance” means – or the institution’s idea?

5. What do you do when you realize/assume students’ (under)performance may be affected by your plan or your skills as a teacher?

6. In the case of #5, would you want help from others or would you prefer to deal with the issues alone? (only you know your students..). Would you want to talk about it? If so, how?…
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I wonder what you think, and of course understand that every teaching context is different. Your answers would enrich my understanding of these questions, whatever context they’d be coming from. Food for thought!…

Thank you for reading.

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3 thoughts on “Questions for discussion kind of post.

  1. Marc says:

    Hiya Anna. I don’t think teachers should take responsibility for learners’ performances in assessments if we’ve tried our best to teach what’s needed and what they are able to take on in the short time we have with them. Some students will switch off, for whatever reasons, and while we can try to bring them back to the lesson we can’t force them to focus.

    Of course teaching is important, but learning is more important and unfortunately so many learners have developed bad habits related to over-dependence on teacher help and haven’t been given the permission to do things autonomously. Students that do amazing work without being asked are freaks (in a good way) that would do work like that anyway. The general trend, in my experience in
    Japan anyway, is of students who will do TOEIC practice exercises rather than attempt any (even anonymous) communication outside the class.

    As for assessment, remember for some students B is a failure and for others it is a huge victory. If you take the dubious credit for learners’ failures you are automatically assuming that their success is down to you, too. I know you’d disagree about the latter, so why would the former be different?

  2. Dan Buller says:

    I like the way Marc has balanced responsibility with teaching what’s needed in relation to the time given.

    The responsibility that a teacher shoulders for the performance of a learner can depend on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) time, motivation, cultural expectations, and past experiences.

    There was a Penny Ur quote a while back that I return to fairly often. She asked herself two questions (not an exact quote): are students learning what’s needed? are they enjoying the language learning experience?

    These two questions have helped me to evaluate my courses from time to time. To determine what’s needed, I’ve tried to balance the learner’s own goals and the institutional goals. And the enjoyment part is what helps me to keep going, and I think it’s helpful for getting the students to motivate themselves to do what’s needed.

  3. martinerant says:

    Hi Ann. Some interesting questions here! I’ve been doing some reflecting of my own ahead of the new term (we start tomorrow), and so I’ve given some consideration to what you’ve asked. My own thoughts are below:
    1. How responsible are teachers for students’ successful performance of the target language they teach?
    – I think that when answering this type of question, it’s important to remember that there’s a crucial difference between being responsible and being held responsible.
    If students are using the language successfully, it may or may not be due to the teacher’s actions, their teaching style and methodology (although we can probably argue that a good teacher can and will make ‘success’ more likely).
    But then again, ‘success’ can be subjective – what if the learners are using the TL in the classroom but are unable to use it in ‘real life’ situations? What if they can confidently use the TL in relaxed classroom situations but freeze up in a test?
    If things do go awry, or even if things are generally fine but not as expected – like when a student who was expecting to get 90% in a test gets 75% – the teacher is often held responsible for that outcome, because we have a natural tendency to externalize blame for negative events.
    At the same time, many of us will think that our successes are due to our own hard work, and won’t consider that our teachers helped us to get there by working tirelessly to encourage us to comprehend, practice and use the language we needed.
    Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow explains this phenomenon in much more detail, but ultimately I think it’s an inevitable part of the job. As teachers, we can’t be expected to be thanked for every instance of successful language use in our classrooms (and outside them), but on the flipside, we have to sometimes accept that students, their parents, and others will sometimes be knocking on our doors to demand explanations for perceived failures that are actually their own fault. Or someone else’s. Or nobody’s.
    2. When do you know/feel you’ve done everything in your power to help students use the language?
    I think reflection has to play a part here. There can be situations where I feel I’ve done everything in my power to help the students use the language but it’s still not ‘clicking’. Those situations are not a frequent as they used to be, for obvious reasons, but can still occur occasionally.
    So I end up replaying the situation in my head and try to figure out what wasn’t quite right and how I could have done it differently. And even if the learners are successfully using the language I sometimes feel that I need to do more – but I also need to be realistic. If you feel like you’re moving mountains in order to get your class to understand the second conditional, you’re probably doing it wrong!
    3. How much control do/should teachers have over students’ ability to produce the desired output?
    Well, the students have to want to learn how to produce the desired output, don’t they? So the teacher needs – whether explicitly or implicitly – to put the students in situations where use of the desired target language represents a positive outcome, or at the very least to show them how and why the TL will be beneficial. In such cases, the teacher has control over context, and the TL almost becomes incidental.
    There is another argument which states that teachers ought to focus more on the control side of things – I’d say that teacher-centred methods and rote learning are examples – but while learners in these environments may indeed be ‘producing the desired output’, and while the teacher is certainly ‘in control’, there may be questions about whether such approaches treat learners as human beings or as merely, to be frank, automatons who are have the ability to use the language but are unable to think freely.
    4. In the case of a rigid, institution-imposed assessment system, what should govern us more, our own beliefs about what “successful performance” means – or the institution’s idea?
    The key word in your question here is should. If the system is rigid and institution-imposed, then the institution’s idea quite obviously does govern the teachers’ methods more. But where this is the case – and in many parts of the world it is – we have to remember that the people who make and impose these rigid rules might themselves have had different ideas about what “successful performance” meant at some point in the distant past.
    If the type of education system you work in is indeed rigid, and if the assessment system is imposed upon teachers without allowing them to have any say in how it works or should work, then it might be more pertinent to ask how this system came about, why it persists, and whether it can realistically be changed. If it can be changed, then our own beliefs need to be aired.
    5. What do you do when you realize/assume students’ (under)performance may be affected by your plan or your skills as a teacher?
    If the lesson is over, then as I mentioned above, I’ll reflect on the situation and will try to make amends and do it better next time. But sometimes this realization occurs when the lesson is actually taking place – not as much as when I was a novice, but it can occasionally occur.
    In those cases, probably the best thing to do is to just abandon the plan and ‘go with it’ – make the best of the situation or try to steer things toward an outcome that might not be part of the plan but can still be considered worthwhile.
    6. In the case of #5, would you want help from others or would you prefer to deal with the issues alone? (only you know your students..). Would you want to talk about it? If so, how?…
    It depends on the situation. I think that having supportive colleagues is very important here, because we shouldn’t feel that we have to deal with these situations alone if that’s not our preference, and we also need to be confident that reaching out to others won’t backfire (“your lesson went badly? That’s going to affect your assessment…”). Meanwhile, some teachers may be stubborn and won’t ask for help when they probably ought to.
    That’s my two cents, anyway. OK, perhaps more than two cents, but you know what I mean 😉

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