Category Archives: RP

Semester reflection July 2017

Tuesday July 18th was a great Tuesday.

I owed my good (actually hyper) feeling to an exhilarating hailstorm in Tokyo, my sweet students who gave me the first shikishi thank-you card in my life and made me feel special, AND the best attended RP Tokyo meeting in history – 10 teachers sacrificed their Tuesday night in order to meet other teachers and talk about teaching. When I phrase what happened like that, I can’t help but feel deep appreciation – and fascination, too! I know there are other ways to spend a nice summer evening in Tokyo. I’m grateful people made the choice they made.

We’ll have to put hailstorms, however exciting, aside as this post is about the RP meeting of that day. It was different in a few ways. First of all, we hadn’t had so many teachers in a meeting before. Secondly, we hadn’t had four new members join at any one time before. And finally, we hadn’t structured our reflection in a way like that before. So I have to admit to having been slightly nervous… but maybe it went well (thanks to Bill Snyder and everyone else for being positive and supportive).

And now I’ll tell you what it was we did that got me so excited.

Here’s what happened:

IMG_7496   —>   IMG_7497

Background: A few weeks ago I attended a 5-minute webinar by Sarietjie Musgrave aka @sarietjiem, in which she described a reflection tool she uses with her students in South Africa when they finish certain projects. The idea behind it is that every finger of a hand is used symbolically to pose a question for guided reflection. The original questions that Sarietjie provided were as follows:

  • What worked well for you in this project? (the Thumb question)
  • How can you apply the skills/ information you got in real life? (the Index Finger question)
  • What caused frustration? (the angry Middle Finger question)
  • What made you feel passionate while working on this project? (the Ring Finger question)
  • What made you feel vulnerable? (the Little Finger question)

 

The idea immediately looked so appealing to me that the following week I tried it out with my students, playing with the questions a little to match them to the course the students had just finished. At the same time, I thought it could be interesting (and fitting) for our last Reflective Practice meeting of the term, which had been planned to focus on our achievements and progress made in the four months since the beginning of this academic year.

Procedure: I brought the empty hand template to the meeting and we worked in small groups coming up with our own questions for each finger that we would later answer while reflecting on the term. After that, there were 10 minutes of silent individual writing time (a moment I truly value both in our meetings and classroom scenarios). Finally, we spent the rest of the time discussing our reflections in small groups, asking each other questions to find out more and understand each other better. In the last 15-20 minutes of the meeting in a whole group discussion we shared our thoughts on this way of reflecting and wrapped up the meeting with thanks and farewells and such. Among the thoughts that other teachers expressed while reflecting on reflection were the following ideas that spoke to me:

(1) It was through talking about the experiences lived by us during the term that we could make a better sense of things and events, and also see the interconnectedness of these experiences. I guess holistic could be a suitable word to describe this method of reflection that we used.

(2) We often offer ready-made reflection questions to our students (e.g. how was today’s class? what did you enjoy? what did you learn? how do you do your homework? etc). But the experience of us writing our own questions could very well be transferred to the ways we do it in class – let students come up with the reflection questions they’d like to answer. See where it takes us.

Maybe here’s where the possibly useful part of the blog post finishes and the self-indulgent one begins. I’d like to capture the spring term of 2017 reflection for myself, so here go my answers as they happened during the meeting.

*****

The Thumb, or “Highlights of this semester”

1) Without any doubt, co-organizing ExcitELT conference in Tokyo was the biggest highlight! That sounds like it could be enough but I made a choice to also present at PanSIG conference in Akita two weeks prior to that and at Teacher Journeys conference in Kobe a week after ExcitELT. Five presentations on four different topics within three weeks – so far I haven’t had any experience to top that.

2) At the PanSIG conference in Akita something special happened. I found out there is a SIG that I had just been looking for, THT SIG – Teachers Helping Teachers. In short, teachers volunteer their time and money to go to developing countries and give workshops, presentations, or other forms of support for teacher communities there. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me as after traveling to Cambodia earlier this year I have thought about volunteering as a teacher a lot. Finding the THT SIG seems to be just what I needed. Onwards.

3) After “complaining” about rapport with students in my previous blog posts (that link, and also here and here), finally I feel like this term I’ve managed to establish a deeper connection with my students. The simple answer seems to have been in giving it time, giving me time to adjust to the system. With more control over my lesson plan and my performance within the unified curriculum, also came flexibility. And a comforting feeling that I can afford being me in my class once again.

The Index Finger, or “What did I learn that I can share with others? What did I learn that can help me to move forward?”

1) I would love to keep working on “spreading the love” for reflective practice, the way I know it to be, in the ways I can do it – blogging, organizing and advertizing our group meetings, writing articles, presenting more at conferences, possibly at future workshops that I could volunteer to do as part of THT SIG programs in countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, etc…

2) I would love to share the experience of what organizing a conference can be and how to go about doing it in my university in particular. That’s a possible blog post.

3) I would like to read – and practice – more about how to become a better communicator. Among other things, I’m terrible at managing conflicts, in fact, I’m terrible at experiencing conflicts myself. I think I’m grown up enough now to work on that.

The Middle Finger, or “Frustrations, disappointments, anger, and negativity of this semester”

Swept up in the hassle of May-June conference-related and other busyness, I got so grumpy and stressed that I often did not communicate with the people around me… well. Felt no energy to invest into that communication, into understanding others and being patient, into looking for a common language. It wasn’t good for my system and only added to the already existing stress.

The Ring Finger, or “Connections”

This semester I was as social as I hadn’t been in a long while, definitely not since I moved to Japan. That resulted in renewing old connections and building stronger bonds, forming new connections with colleagues in my workplace as well as with new members of the RP group. I sent a hundred emails and networked meaningfully at conferences. With the information about THT SIG, a whole new vision has opened up, with a view into possible connections outside of what my current teaching and working zone is. Connections that could be a bridge into my next step – teaching in other countries in Asia. Feels like the door has opened a crack.

The Little Finger, or “When did I feel vulnerable?”

Quite a few times during the term I felt vulnerable and uncertain in class with student A. An exceptionally fluent – and overfluent! – student who has lived and studied abroad for many years, student A. was swearing in class, unknowingly dominating discussions, and yet all that with the best of intentions as I later found out. How did I deal with it? Talking and being honest helps. Helped. 🙂

Added in the palm of the hand – “Achievements that I am proud of”

I believe I am somewhat proud of, even if exhausted by the end of it, being a part of ExcitELT this year. It was an experience I hadn’t had before and one that taught me a lot – about conferences, about people, about myself.

Another source of pride would  be our RP group success! New members, the interest, the buzz *that I’m feeling**… More than ever before I hope that other group members will step up to become facilitators and share what they believe is worth reflecting on, as well as how else it can be done.

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In a discussion a few days ago I complained with an earnest feeling of frustration in my tone that I think I have a problem. My problem is my stubbornness. The fact is, I appear all too ready to be reflective, only if that’s going to be MY way of reflecting, something I understand, something that speaks to MY style. I know it limits my development – and worst of all, I feel like such a hypocrite. Thus, I’d like to end here with yet another quote that takes its roots in the Buddhist teachings.

When we hold too firmly to our beliefs, we risk being blind to reality and seeing only what conforms to our beliefs.

Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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Examining listening habits

I have to break it to you: our monthly Reflective Practice Tokyo group meetings are great. While the two-hour sessions are normally planned, with the expected flow of discussions and activities outlined in my notes, I just never know what will happen. From my observations, it is 84% about the people who attend and 16% about the topic (random percentage, obviously). Most of the times we only do 1 point from my original plan, and while a year ago, at the group’s onset, I did not always take this fact well but rather as a flaw in either my preparation or facilitation, I’ve grown a lot more relaxed about it. I have a feeling other RP groups might be doing things differently. Some day we’ll try a different way, too (oh this reminds me – I wish there were a way to connect different RP groups functioning around, to share the ways of holding meetings, notes, topics, maybe even record some of our meetings and share those!…. dreams, dreams… if you’re interested, please get in touch!). At the moment, I feel that ours is a “fluid” style: we go where the current takes us. And at the next meeting I promise I’ll bring this up so that other group members can have a clear say in this themselves!…

Anyway, this afternoon we held our 11th meeting.  The topic I wanted to discuss was listening habits. Since the very first meeting, we have been focusing a lot on developing our listening skills – basically, trying very hard to be “good listeners” to each other while talking about things. I can hear you asking a reasonable question, “What makes a good listener?” The answers we arrived at in our different previous meetings mostly revolved around being focused on whatever the speaker is saying and asking “good”, useful questions instead of giving advice or referring to our own experiences (unless advice is explicitly requested!). At a certain point, I think I became curious to see more to it. For example, I noticed that I often fail being a good listener in my daily life outside that meeting (which is 99% of my life!))), and that the criteria, in fact, are more complex.

While doing some research online for communication skills activities for some of my higher level students, I found an interesting task, which I brought to the group meeting and which was the springboard for a deeper discussion about listening BAD – and consequently, GOOD – habits. Unfortunately, I lost the original link for this exercise, I will include it when/if I find it…!

The activity included examining 10 bad listening habits that people might be guilty of while communicating with others. Here they are, plus two more that I added to the list based on where our discussion took us:

  • interrupting often or trying to finish the other person’s sentences;
  • jumping to conclusions;
  • being parental and offering advice even when not requested;
  • making up your mind before you have all the information;
  • being a compulsive note taker;
  • not giving any response afterward, even after promising to do so;
  • being impatient;
  • losing your temper when hearing things you don’t agree with;
  • trying to change the subject to something that relates to your own experiences;
  • thinking more about your reply while the other person is speaking than what they are saying;
  • not listening to questions but rather seeing them as a personal attack;
  • not being present while listening. 

 

Guess what? We’re all guilty.

 

When I realize I wasn’t at my best as a listener in a particular situation, it’s always either too late or there are excuses (tired, busy, grumpy, not interested, “want to help”, etc). It was really great to look at this list of habits and think about myself through the lens it offers.

And I’d like to end this post abruptly with another important take-away from today’s meeting, which is also a take-away from last weekend’s Teacher Journeys conference in Kobe. Change does not have to always be the necessary outcome of reflection, well not immediate change. A better understanding of ourselves could be a more fulfilling purpose, and with a longer lasting impact, too…

 

As ever,

Thank you for reading.

 

Reflective Practice Tokyo into this academic year, Meeting #9

Thursday is the longest day. And yet, somehow today I had all the energy I needed to make it – three classes, each demanding a different focus of my awareness, different vibe to match and adjust to. Writing *semi* individual comments with feedback to each group. And then, a meeting of our Reflective Practice Tokyo group, after a three-month long break. And yet instead of being exhausted, I am typing up this post at 11 pm. Enjoy.

*****

My plan for the meeting was loosely outlined like this:

What’s important in the beginning of the term? Individual notes on pieces of paper, throw in one bag. Draw and comment, hear ideas.

Choose some, write an episode related (from recent weeks), talk to partners. LISTEN.

ELC (Experiential Learning Cycle) back to work.

As it goes, I overdid it with the plan. The first task on the list turned out to be plenty, more than enough. The group members were so amazing with their contributions, the important things so varied and yet so inter-related, the experiences and stories so vivid that we talked and talked and talked, until it was suddenly time to leave. And I would leave it at that, as I’ve done for months, but I feel this acute need to blog and I honestly don’t want to be so perfectionist about my writing and the timing and topic anymore…

So here’s the full list of important things that the six of us at this group meeting came up with. As I was typing it up, I was fascinated to see the variety of “zones” of significance for each of us, and how our current state in the similar (or completely same!) teaching context(s)  is reflected in our current priorities. I wonder if anything from that list speaks to you, too.

– balancing commitments;
– figuring out the feel/community of each of my class (what’s the culture, what’s the story);
– L1 use, comfortable atmosphere, expectations;
– thinking about how to reflect on teaching;
– getting ideas for activities;
– building routines/ learner training;
– risk, play, comfort;
– understanding the wider context of the course (not just lesson by lesson);
– rediscovering what I’m doing (a process that works, techniques vs self-conscious reflction);
– building relationships/ a connection with students;
– making students feel comfortable (in/with the course and with each other);
– see/set a goal and/or agenda for the time of the term (outside of this teaching context, for example articles, conferences, RP meetings, bigger professional goals);
– working on a strongly unified curriculum;
– getting enough sleep;
– remembering students’ names and breaking the ice;
– expectations; significance of the course beyond the classroom; philosophy;
– atmosphere.

I was quite intrigued to see that almost all of the notes were different. As I was walking home, I couldn’t help but think how important it is to listen and hear what others have to say. The thing is, if I feel strongly about a certain aspect of teaching, I feel like my vision gets blurred and many other things will be overlooked, because the focus is elsewhere. I miss out on something else that’s important. For example, I’ve recently grown very passionate about the role of relationships and connections we form in our job, as well as the crucial value and importance of a teacher (brought about and fuelled by Sarah Mercer’s work and talks, including her recent plenary at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow). I want to talk about this, read about this, bring this view into discussions whenever there is a chance… But being so “aggressive” about one thing probably distorts my perception of the other aspects of my job…?

A Buddhist idea came to mind then, that people believe their opinions are so important and cling to them so fiercely… yet opinions change, so it really is almost a waste of mental effort. I wish I remembered this more often.

So that’s where our reflective discussion (followed by somewhat reflexive thought) is leaving me at the end of the day. This time, and almost every time – be more open. Listen and hear. Distance from my own opinion – but that’s the hardest one.

*****

Last week, as I was meeting 107 students that I am teaching this term for the first time, I said in my introduction that I like writing and one of my dreams is to write a book and/or write a column. After saying this outloud a few times to different groups, I started feeling like a hypocrite – in truth, I haven’t written in ages. There’s always a show to watch, a mandala to colour, a sketchbook page to fill, – and always a book to read. While all those have become increasingly important in my life and bring me a lot of joy, I deserted my one true passion. Writing always used to make me feel on edge, in a good sense. And caused many sleepless nights to my life, which I miss.

I know I am in a different place now. But maybe I can lower the bar and just write some.

Thanks for reading.

(and here I found the exact quote)

quote-we-cling-to-our-own-point-of-view-as-though-everything-depended-on-it-yet-our-opinions-have-no-zhuangzi-204496

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Dialogic journaling. Part 2, dialogue.

If you had a lot of time on your hands and read all 2500+ words of my previous blog post, you also read this line: “That’s what I asked Matt, my helpful journal companion. In my next post you can read quite a few of his questions based on the notes you’ve probably just read above.”

So, here goes… (note: maybe you want to read my previous blog post to know what we’re talking about here. But maybe you can very well do without it. Your choice.) Matt’s selected questions are presented here chronologically, so they refer to my class notes from October to December. I wonder if the connection to the actual lessons is traceable OR important at all, for you as a reader.

 

***** PART 2. Q&A. *****

You said that one of your goals was to nurture a sense of community, how do you think that setting class and task expectations could reflect this?

I’m not sure. It seems at the moment they don’t have a strong sense of community/group goals. Maybe I should try setting peer goals for tasks…? I’m scared to try certain things, as I’m afraid it will (a) take time, which is even more precious in this class than in others; (b) confuse students more.

 

What is your definition of connecting on a personal level? Is there a particular time and place for it in each lesson, or should there be a sense of connection in every instruction that you give?

Interesting question, and the very first one may actually be the crucial one for me in this particular case and many others! I need to give this more time to give a thoughtful answer. Thanks for asking.

I guess I want them at least to look at me without me asking them to do so. That would be a nice start. Some do. Lisa, for example, seems to hardly ever look anyone in the eye, though (just realized that!!). She has a somewhat bored look and always at materials or her lap or nails, something. Interesting observation which I’ll check tomorrow.

Maybe during the first few classes the group sort of shocked me so I did not talk to them on a more personal level either. Like I assumed they were not following me or not interested. I fear that.

 

To what extent do you feel that your learners are also looking to connect with you?

That is another excellent question! And why should they?) I feel that some of them are ready to listen to my “teacherly” explanations, to take in what I am there to sort of give. … I don’t know how to answer this question! I guess it is another one to mull over (which is good).

 

Where do you think the problems derive? Is it their lack of motivation, their level or English, or your delivery of instructions? How do other classes respond to your instructions?

Other classes face no problems with instructions, for the most part. When there’s confusion, either partners come to rescue, or I help the pairs who struggle. When you ask “Where do the problems derive?” I wonder which problems exactly you mean, because it looks like there are plenty.

I honestly don’t think their motivation is significantly lower than that of other classes. “Motivation” is a word too vague in any case, and for each student in that class especially  often a matter of many aspects coming (or not coming) together – being late, being sleepy, partner, topic, mood, etc. Their level of English in itself maybe is not a problem either BUT their confidence is another matter. What bothers me the most is maybe oftentimes the lack of response to me. <…> And I am more relaxed in other classes. Maybe part of the problem is my tension over what their weaknesses generally are.

 

Have you considered the concept of ‘Willingness to listen’? This is closely related to willingness to communicate. Perhaps one follows the other – if they are not willing to communicate, arguably they may not be willing to listen either.

I should research that, thank you!

 

Do you feel that your sense of relaxation lead to the students asking you for more help?

I think that’s a possibility. Maybe I didn’t appear so concerned or tense as in our previous classes. But that’s honestly just a speculation. <…> On a separate yet maybe somewhat related note, I wonder (not the first time in this journal?..) if my labeling them as not interested in each other affected their communication. I could be intentionally avoiding situations that I saw as “challenging” for them – and uncomfortable for myself.

 

You mentioned that you were more comfortable with silence, and more comfortable to wait. This was an interesting observation. What role do you think more waiting time on your part could have on future classes? How long are you prepared to wait without any intervention?

It was an interesting observation and realization for myself, too. I think there are types of waiting, and I need to try the useful types. For example, in the beginning of fluency they are silent because they are looking for the ideas in the text (my fluency questions refer them to the text), getting ready. They are not the type to easily jump into speaking. Then I could wait for them to understand/clarify with each other the structure of a task. But once I see they are stuck OR clearly wasting time, I would interrupt.

My feeling is (and has been proved by previous classes) that they realize what they are supposed to do through doing it, not from me telling them (modeling helps, but not always – sometimes some of them are not following).

 

Flow is an interesting idea too. Do you think that your flow as a teacher is sometimes at a faster or slower current than that of the learners? Or a different stream altogether?

Absolutely!! That is something else I would love to find some reading about. Maybe under a different term?… Though to me flow applies perfectly. I think a case of a mismatch is potentially detrimental – to rapport in the first place, and to the learning as a consequence. Also it would add to anxiety, both learners’ and teacher’s. I believe (now) it is a teacher’s job to adjust our flow to that of the learners’. Hopefully I have been trying to do that… Nice question!

 

You made me think about the role that timers play in discussions. Are you hoping to build in a separate planning stage so that they can organize stuff before you start the timer? How could the preparation activities be used more effectively so that they can just jump straight into the discussion when the timer starts?

It is an interesting thought to include a separate step before starting the timer. Last class I just asked once again if everything is clear, but I think I should come up with better ways ensuring they are all aware of the upcoming discussion flow. Especially relevant for the review class and discussion test!! If you have any ideas,I would love to talk about them…

As for the prep activities, their content should mirror CLEARLY the discussion questions, that is one of the points that causes confusion. I think transferring ideas from a more detailed prep to rather generally worded discussion questions is something that causes the trip-over. Helpful question, thank you! They could benefit from clear options in the questions, repeating the topics they just discussed in prep.

PLUS they need a reminder of what phrases to use to start. – on the board as a gap-fill?…

 

I’d like to know how the topic of the class fits with what you learnt from Sarah Mercer’s talk and your student profiles that you created. Will this have any bearing on how the content of the class or how you organize groups?

Well the topic did not really overlap with Sarah’s ideas. However, students were surprised to hear that Ken (and Lisa) consider themselves to be introverts. I was quite surprised myself.

As for the groupings, I think it is my intentional decision to have them always mix partners. At this point I can see they are all interacting well and reacting well to each other. This is very nice to see! I see now that there is no need really to guard them against each other under the subjective  impression that they don’t match or that they would feel uncomfortable. Even if it is so, through communicating, they improve it AND thus build rapport. It would certainly have been a mistake to split some students apart!…

 

I’d like to ask something more summative. There have been a number of micro-observations in this journal, but is/has a bigger picture emerged? Are there any definitive things that you could say you’ve learnt from this experience?

Certainly I will gather the bigger picture in a clearer way when I read through all of the entries again and make sense of them. I was too overwhelmed in the beginning of the course, and then many factors I think affected the picture. As in gradually some things became less of a problem, some things (=concerns I had) seem to be less of a problem than I originally imagined. I will try to make sense of what happened through blog posts on my blog and then my paper. Can I use some of your questions?))

What I learnt, I think, among other things:

  • A classroom is more complex than we imagine or are used to thinking (especially vivid when many issues surface);
  • Emotions play a big part;
  • Teacher is the one more responsible for establishing good rapport. Students, at least here in Japan, might be happy to follow the teacher’s lead but will likely not initiate it.

And other things I guess!!

 

I want to ask, do you think this form of reflection has been constructive for you? Has your insights helped to reveal where issues lie and how to respond the them?

Absolutely! And I believe questions added to the experience. Writing it down was beneficial by itself, of course, but an extra pair of eyes probably gave other directions to my thought. In the end, I have my tendencies to think of my classes. Even when I write reflections, I do it in my own way. But your questions added different perspectives and made me consider aspects I would not have considered otherwise.

 

*****

I thank Matt for going through this experience with me, being open and open-minded, patient and helpful. I can say without a doubt that this kind of dialogic journaling is a great format of engaging in reflective practice. Reflection certainly comes in many different ways (and my blogging has long been the way number 1 for me), but I recently feel like I want a partner for my reflection. A group. A community. And I am lucky I have one now 🙂

Yet no one will write my article for me.

 

Thank you for reading!

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Dialogic journaling. Part 1, notes.

I would write about why I am not blogging anymore and how guilty that makes me feel deep inside. I would write how every day I choose other, less painful and effort-demanding hobbies. I would write how I keep finding ways to escape doing writing of any sort. I would make a good case for support and understanding (“We’ve all been there, hitting that writer’s block”). I can easily picture myself writing that.

Instead, for what it’s worth, I will use this space to help me consolidate my ideas for another semester project paper. Purely practical reason, a writing I can’t delay any longer.

This past semester I had to identify “an issue” in one of my classes and keep a reflective journal registering my observations and/or any changes I brought about regarding it. I wanted to experiment with the format and try a dialogic journal. Every Friday after the lesson with the group in question I would write an entry in a Google doc. Then my colleague, co-creator of Reflective Practice Tokyo group and friend Matt Turner (known as a TEFLologist to some of you) would read my notes and leave his questions in relation to what I’d written before. Since for my article I need to make sense of the 20+ pages of that document, I will write two blog posts trying to sift through to the bottom. Mostly copy-paste from that Google doc, with a few comments from now in italics, here and there.

 

***** PART 1.  MY NOTES. *****

Some time in early October, the beginning of the term.

Goals for semester 2 project should be related to my teaching beliefs from the previous project (do I act on that? how?)

  • More reflective dialogue with students, among students
  • Micro-writing (for reflection and/or self/peer assessment)
  • Nurturing a community
  • Attention to individual students

Focus of my journaling will be ***** class. The class has multiple issues that make it challenging for me to feel comfortable teaching this group. Group dynamics, low level, low motivation, individual students’ problematic areas, lack of active response to teacher instructions and to teacher in general, etc. It seems like a perfect chance to apply the ideas from my teaching beliefs stated above. Nurturing a community seems a priority. A community that would ensure mutual support and understanding. A community responsive to each other and to the teacher. —> I need to think of ways to reach that level through (a) attention and help to individual students; (b) dialogue with students through micro-writing? (c) class reflections. My concerns: too many concerns in that class, too many issues that I want to “fix”.

 

General issues that seemed like “issues” and prompted the journaling in the first place:

  • Slow to understand instructions for activities; sometimes have to stop Presentation stage in the middle of their “discussion” time to explain the task again or model with a student;
  • The use of Japanese in the first 2 classes was overwhelming;
  • Uneven in terms of English level;
  • In group discussions – limited interactions (very few follow-up questions, weak communication skills in general);
  • Need constant clear reminders of the goals (to use the function language, for example);
  • Need more time for practice and prep activities;
  • Don’t greet each other as enter the room, nor chat;
  • Take time to figure out tasks and even interpret discussion questions – seem lost and don’t ask me for help;
  • Don’t look at me unless I ask them to, sometimes multiple times.

 

Measures I noted down as possibly helpful/necessary:

  • Help them in discussion time as needed;
  • Short fluency (2-1.5-1 instead of 3-2-1);
  • Set simple clear goals in the beginning of class, get back to them at the end;
  • Reduce instructional TTT to a minimum – have them DO more and help in the process;
  • Increase attention to individual students;
  • Provide clear structure;
  • Work on checking understanding (communication skill we practise as part of the course);
  • Focus of the day;
  • Be firm about Japanese use;
  • Find a wake-up activity for the beginning of class (always a slow torture!);
  • One step at a time, don’t overload;
  • Slower pace, change certain tasks from regular classes.

 

A selection of my own entries, written once a week on the day of the lesson. I can be diligent as needed.

*** Lesson 4 ***

Lesson goals on the board – speak 100% English and be interactive (drew a scheme of an interactive discussion, with a mess of arrows and questions). Got too wordy/passionate explaining that. Sometimes spoke when some students were not looking at me. Felt frustrated to have to call their names and ask them to look at me. Did that A LOT in the first half of class.

For the Deep End (presentation of target language) they did not start their discussion for a minute, looked at me and did not know what to do, so I had to stop and model the discussion with Sean. Then just explained the phrases.

There were 6 students present, so group discussions consisted of three people. By the end of class the students grew more responsive to me. At the end of the lesson asked them to write on sticky notes what was easy and difficult today in class.

Easy: only two people discussion; good reactions; speak in pairs; discussion with Brian, very interesting; talk about ways to learn English; talk with classmate, use communication skills. Difficult: giving different viewpoints; giving opinions; group discussion; ask questions; group discussion.

Important note to self: remember to always ask your students.

 

*** Lesson 5, Discussion Test, October (here I introduced a structure for the entries, that I followed till the end of the project) ***

What happened (my action, their action)

I didn’t make any changes to my original lesson plan and had students have a pair discussion (5 min) before a longer group discussion 1 with the same question. As I could hear, they were doing a fine job and discussed different viewpoints. Before discussion 1, I brought their attention to the fact that they each should ask at least 5 questions (and wrote them on the board). In group discussions, they almost never used reactions and didn’t ask many questions. We did a raise of hands on the questions asked. I opted out of doing a self-check so this was it for feedback.

Right before discussion 2 I asked everyone to stand up and sit down only after giving me 3 reactions they would use in the next discussion. In both the following discussion and especially in the test everyone did great with reactions, to the point of exaggerating and causing laughter. Most students did well on the questions in the test as well. When students were discussing in Japanese which questions to choose for the test, they seemed comfortable with each other (laughing). Nobody spoke Japanese during the test.

I try to remember to speak less and clearer. But after I explained to the second test group that they can take their time to choose good questions for the test, Lisa asked Tanya in Japanese what was it they were doing (I assume).

How we felt about it (my emotions, speculation about their emotional response)

I felt we’re warming up to each other (all). Especially so when we did reactions standing. They felt more relaxed. I’m never sure if Lisa understands what I’m saying and I don’t know how to check (when it’s not the task). I feel I should start speaking activities for them as soon as possible. Cut my talking and explanation time to an absolute minimum. But then how do I connect, get through to them in that case?…on a personal level. I mostly felt good in this class and about them, too. It took them longer to do things, but they were/seemed to be less confused than usual.

What does all that mean? (speculation about the causes)

It seems like recognizing by themselves what they are doing and not doing (through, say, counting) is helpful (when they see the evidence). Probably self-check sheets are not as helpful. A short, different kind of activity to lighten up the mood is helpful for the good class atmosphere, too (like with reactions). Their recent success with not speaking Japanese transferred into today’s class, so performance maybe was so good for that reason. That makes me think that they should have a feeling of SUCCESS. And 1-2 clearly and easily achievable goals for each class. But they are not the same for all of them, these goals, so setting the goals on the board for everyone maybe is not such a good idea…

What comes out of it? (ideas for future changes based on this class)

  1. 1 goal for all, 1 personal (give out sticky notes?)
  2. Short, different kind of activity in FB time to illustrate the point and practice straight away; no ticking the boxes in self-check sheets
  3. Stats – count something (that matters at this particular lesson).

 

*** Lesson 7, November ***

What happened (my action, their action)

In other classes I start the lesson by asking students if they checked any media in the morning and what they saw there and also share my own story. In this class I decided not to do this – on second thought, I should have done that. They could benefit from starting to talk from the very beginning of class. Other than that, I did not really change my lesson plan nor did they have any struggles! They were reasonably active and engaged in discussions, didn’t use Japanese! In fact, they performed really well and followed instructions straight away for almost every task. <…> At the end of class, I asked them to write easy and difficult points about the class again. One “bad point” Lisa’s discussion group mentioned in feedback was “slow discussion.” <…> I can notice that the dynamic of a group discussion, even if it is just 3 people, is significantly different from pair work. Slower and confused, indecisive as to who speaks and when.

How we felt about it (my emotions, speculation about their emotional response)

I never noticed or thought today that this class is “problematic.” When there was some confusion, I interfered and helped as possible. They figured out what to do quite quickly today and there was a nice feeling in the air, friendly and respectful.

What does all that mean? (speculation about the causes)

Some factors I’m thinking about:

  • Ken (the confused guy from last class) was absent;
  • I wasn’t scared of their failure (or rather did not expect it);
  • Function language was clearly presented on the board as a dialogue.

What comes out of it? (ideas for future changes based on this class)

  • Activate schemata for the lesson – by asking them questions or asking them to discuss some questions related to fluency and lesson topic.
  • Include group work for stages other than group discussion (for example, Practice).
  • Structure the discussion flow more clearly, especially the beginning.
  • Write their good language on the board!! They often referred to the board today, where the key language was written.
  • Think about the “slow discussion” – together??

 

*** Lesson 8, November ***

  • Before the bell I tried to talk to them (“How are you?” for the most part). Lisa said she was genki, and in general there was some positive energy. Even though it was as quiet as ever before the bell.
  • Next step was having them do the functions review. I said, “You can discuss and try to remember together” – nobody discussed, everyone worked individually.
  • One more interesting point about Lisa today: the student she’s most likely to talk  to in Japanese is Kim. Today in fluency she reminded him to speak English when he switched to Japanese. The same thing happened in discussion later.

How we felt about it (my emotions, speculation about their emotional response)

I felt relaxed in today’s class, for a change. There still was the same confusion as ever, but I didn’t react so negatively to it. It didn’t stress me out. There was some energy in this class, and even though discussions were slow, I talked to them about their strong points (many questions!!!) and weird points, HONESTLY, and we could laugh together.
What does all that mean? (speculation about the causes)

  • Coming to class ready for “something challenging or different” changes perspective.
  • I wonder if I was more scared of them than they were of speaking English.

 

*** Lesson 10, December ***

During fluency, the speakers were completely silent for a long time. Same was true for the Presentation (30 seconds in silence), so I came up to each group and asked “What’s your opinion about this topic?” <…> They started with “I don’t know” but then slowly got the energy and spoke about America and Sweden. <…> As the class progressed, they could start the activities quicker.

How we felt about it (my emotions, speculation about their emotional response)

I felt relaxed for the most part. When they were silent, I just waited and realized that I didn’t feel as frustrated as before. They need more time to start. <…> Students seemed more on board with the lesson flow, even if confused at times, mostly at the beginning of class and at the beginning of tasks.

What comes out of it? (ideas for future changes based on this class)

Starting the timer does not mean start of discussion in this group. They take it as a start to organize themselves. So maybe…(1) We should clarify together what we’re going to discuss now and how we go about it (prompt them to the first few questions in discussion flow); (2) Start the timer when they actually start their discussions.

 

*** Lesson 11, December ***

Target language presentation created a big confusion. One group for 1 minute looked at the handout and in Japanese said the names of the people in the picture there. I came up and drew their attention to the question to discuss and asked, “What’s your opinion, Haley?” – but nothing happened after that. Finally, Sean began talking. In the end, I didn’t use the timer in the presentation at all, but rather waited for them to get where I wanted them to get… For the practice stage, again I gave them more time than planned originally.  

How we felt about it (my emotions, speculation about their emotional response)

It was a very energetic class, we felt comfortable and laughed and understood each other (even if they didn’t always understand the task!…). They listened to me more, looked at me when I was talking, engaged with me, responded when I elicited ideas from them. At the same time they were still confused in the first part of class, often confirming with each other. My current thought – what is wrong with them confirming with each other?? They are obviously more comfortable with each other than before. Isn’t it what I wanted?

What does all that mean? (speculation about the causes)

I can’t wrap my head around the reasons for their repeated confusion over tasks in the presentation and practice stages (which, honestly, resemble one another from class to class)… Do you have any ideas?….

 

*****

That’s what I asked Matt, my helpful journal companion. In my next post you can read quite a few of his questions based on the notes you’ve probably just read above. What a long post!.. And no conclusions drawn… I hope you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time reading it, and I will secretly hope that some day somebody can find this post useful, whichever way that may be. If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them below.

Bottom line: I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time on the beach. On the contrary, I finally feel the burden slightly lifted. The tugboat is at work now, slowly picking up speed.

Thank you for reading – and always supporting me.

tugboat and barge

 

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#RPTokyo, May 27th

One of the things I took for myself out of the Reflective Practice meeting (#RPTokyo being the unofficial hashtag used solely by me *so far*)  that we had today is that I can write every day. I’ll set the timer for 10 minutes and just write. Write those blog posts I want to write. Write NOW and not expect myself to have them clean and perfect and ready to publish.

So here I am, just back home from an RP meeting on a Friday night, dying (metaphorically) to put on the screen what this meeting was all about. Setting the timer for 10 mins and…

 

Below is my plan (annotated where necessary) for the second RP meeting that we held today. I post it as it is, copied and pasted straight away from a Google Doc I have created for that #RPTokyo purpose. Afterwards I will walk you through what actually happened and how.

*****

Second Meeting

May 27th, Friday

LISTEN (note for myself to remember to keep it a priority for us to listen to each other)

Plan

  • Quick intro (Who are you? Why are you here? What’s your experience with RP?)
  • “Fluency” warm-up. Talk to a partner for 3 minutes about the questions. The listener should ask questions.

Remember one or two challenging moments in class: What happened? How did it make you feel? How did you respond to it?

  • Whole group recap of the ways people respond to challenging, stressful situations.

(?elicit and write on board adjectives to describe emotions people felt?)

  • ELC as one of the tools to learn to reflect on our teaching in order to make changes.

(discuss the cycle in pairs?). Any comments? —> “experience” that we look at doesn’t have to be a negative experience. It can be any stage of class or a success. (my own note I wanted to remember to say)

  • Let’s explore the ELC together. In pairs, go through a moment you shared before (or a different moment?) with the help of the Cycle.
  • Wrap-up. Share what you’ve learnt today (if), any thoughts before leaving?

Give article to read just FYI. About RP groups in Korea.

Resources to share in the group:

Zhenya’s posts

https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/elc-or-the-art-of-experiential-learning/

https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/elc-questions-and-answers/

*****

Lessons learnt, Lesson one

Trust myself to plan and organize, trust the group to follow and adjust.

13315561_10209742786912620_8491406298836510561_n

You might notice in the rough plan I shared above the many question marks I used. Thinking of how to facilitate a meeting to the benefit of all proved not at all equal to planning a workshop, as the underlying thoughts I had were, “Does it help us feel a community? Can we open up? Will we listen to each other? Who has control?”

One of the main concerns I had in anticipation of the first meeting was that, as an organizer,  I’d risk coming across as knowledgeable. That my role of an organiser and facilitator would have me pushing people to do what I think RP meeting is about, what I saw it to be (in Daegu, Korea, in the autumn of 2014). I sweated  and panicked over this. Two meetings later, I realize that being a facilitator is a package deal – it goes with those concerns and responsibilities in hand. Fear of the unknown, anticipation of negative reactions, unclear set-up, unmet expectations – those were some factors that triggered a massive lack of confidence in me. And while to a certain extent they still do, now I know I’m not alone. In this second meeting, it did feel like we were a group. We were making choices together and it proved painless to trust each other and share the reins. It was painless, too, to get the reins back and ensure we’re on track.

 

Notes, thoughts, practicalities

There’s a mental trap it’s easy to fall into – to consciously or subconsciously expect to come out of an event/presentation/workshop/meeting with real take-aways. Well, when I’m present and listening, it’s easy to. Here are the notes I took which count as take-aways.

1. I did take notes of the emotions that were named during the 5-5-5 activity during our group recap of our stories. Challenging situations left the teachers feel frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, helpless, frozen, ignorant, grateful for students’ good communication skills, guilty, caring, angry… Feeling like they’re not doing enough. I’m glad we looked at the bright side, too.

2. Two out of six teachers present at the meeting were Japanese, and it was from them that I heard the following idea: Japanese teachers are culturally more inclined to be negative towards their teaching experiences. In the same way, Japanese students might not be used to praise.  But then, is it really so culturally exclusive? Aren’t we all too obsessed with dwelling on the negative sometimes?…We’re probably more likely to revisit in our minds a tiniest classroom failure than a little classroom success.

3. … And that was when it dawned on me that, in the short time in the very rigid structure of my class that I have for feedback and potentially connecting to the students, I should aim at making my class a more positive experience. Limit the points to improve, extend the praise. Today was the first day when I drew smiley faces in my students’ self-check sheets.

4. I will use a timer for my own writing! I have. We’re reaping the fruit.

IMG_1807

5. In connection with the same idea of obsessing over the negative, I remembered a plenary I attended three or four years ago at a conference in Turkey. The speaker asked us to write down the answer to the question – What am I good at as a teacher? – and tell about it to the partner. Is it an easy question to ask yourself? I struggled to do it back then, I’m not sure I’ll easily do it now. The plenary speaker was Chuck Sandy.

6. During our discussions at the meeting I formulated a couple more things that teaching at Clark taught me. (A) Have students busy with a task all the time; (B) Minimize teach-talk to students – what is an important message for me is likely a mere noise for them. (C) Do not fear to show strength and character, do not fear to not be soft and friendly. (D) I hadn’t realized before teaching in Japan just how much code-switching from Russian to English and back I was doing in my classes and how big the impact was. I never had to think about it!

 

Final thoughts

I have said it many times, to myself and others, that I’m good on my own. I have said it so many times that I believe it to be true. Indeed, imagining me spending a Saturday night alone sketching, colouring, reading, writing this, one might agree that there’s a lot of an introvert in me. Yet there’s no denying the fact that reflecting in a group for two hours gave me so much energy that I nearly finished this blog post in an hour’s time. After struggling for months to get my momentum back.

Maybe there’s something to it, even if it only were a once-in-a-month kind of effect.

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This teacher behind practice.

You might know I have an unhealthy tendency to write about myself a lot or too much. In connection with this, I am very pleased with the choice of topic for this particular blog post. Basing it on the materials from Thomas Farrell’s workshop “Teacher Behind Practice” that I attended at JALT is a decent excuse to continue conversations with and about myself.

In the workshop we were asked to complete a set of sentences (“narrative frames”) without giving them too much thought. That was an almost traumatizing and certainly challenging experience as I normally would do my best to look for the words which express my thoughts as close to the thoughts themselves as possible, and that takes a lot of time, mental effort, and oftentimes a dictionary search. That fast-paced workshop experience left me feeling unsatisfied. So I want to go through the same set of frames again and have a second, more thoughtful run over them. My original, rushed workshop notes will follow in italics and let’s see how they will compare.

 

***** Who is THIS teacher behind her practice? *****

 

1. To me, the word teacher means … different things in my native language and in English. In Russian, I have recently started to read “учитель” as a kind of a mentor, almost guru. That could be related to my Asian travels. The word “teacher” in English for me at the moment is not really much more than a piece of lexis in the language to define a person teaching, as a driver would be a person driving.

To me the word teacher means a person with students in the room.

 

2. I became a teacher because… I happened to like my first experience working at school when I was 20. Quite possibly I didn’t “become” a teacher, I “happened to become” one. For now.

I became a teacher because that’s what happened, I never wanted or planned to.

 

3. I DON’T believe teaching is a calling because… No, I don’t believe this, because it’s not true for me or maybe because “a calling” sounds too presumptious and high-flown. I believe a very obvious and inescapable artistic talent is a sign of a calling. I believe teaching requires a certain set of qualities, but then again different students will connect to teachers with different combinations of those qualities.

I don’t believe teaching is a calling, at least from my own experience.

 
4. When I first started to teach I… was very naive and sensitive. I would take every little uncomfortable moment in the classroom very seriously and think about it for days on end. I’ve learnt to let it go since then.

When I first started to teach I was 19 and created my own crosswords.

 
5. The place I teach now is… providing me with enough freedom to think bigger and come up with projects. I’m grateful to my boss and colleagues for giving me the space to feel at ease in my classroom and our shared staff room.

The place where I teach now is interesting.

 
6. My students are… intelligent and open. I’m not sure if it’s about the university they enter and its entrance requirements, or about my attitude towards people I teach. Both?

My students are mostly boys and most often intelligent ones.

 
7. I enjoy going into school each morning because… This is a frame full of limitations (which I believe fits well into the concept of a frame). I enjoy not having to go into school each morning as I’m very happy to be the master and manager of my own working week and schedule. I enjoy going into school in the morning because I’m excited to see what the day may bring.

I enjoy going into school each morning because it makes me wake up early and have a maybe exciting day and be social.

 
8. I find teaching exciting and challenging because… I like to think my students feel free enough to express themselves during a lesson and this eventually leads to interesting discoveries for me, us and our mutual learning.

I find teaching exciting and challenging because …(no answer).

 
9. I do not think teaching is a job because… + OR vs I think teaching is a profession because

These statements are really hard for me to tackle. I don’t see any trouble with thinking of teaching as both a job and a profession. I hope in the comments you can guide me towards figuring out the difference, if you see it here. For me, in any case, teaching English is a kind of a life style that gives me enough freedom, social contacts, and plenty of opportunities for personal development (which I value a lot). There’s no speaking of work life balance in my situation, my “work” is my life, and that’s why I don’t feel bad or get whiney about writing articles at 3 am on the night of the deadline. These are my choices.

I think teaching is a job but also could be just the way you see your life. Communicating what you know to other people.

I think teaching is a profession because there’s room and means to grow.

 
10. The best aspect of my life as a teacher is… being connected to a great number of teachers around the world. I can’t help feeling lucky and special in being able to form these connections, strengthen them, use them to change my own lessons and even probably the course of life and career.

The best aspect of my life as a teacher now is being connected to other teachers and having found good friends.

 
11. The worst aspect of my life as a teacher is… having too many ideas, plans, and projects and too little time to bring them all into life.

The worst aspect of my life as a teacher is …(no answer).

 
12. What I really enjoy doing in my classroom is… challenging and surprising my students.

What I really enjoy doing in my classroom is talking to students about their learning.

 
13. My students believe in…. the importance of having a good relationship and nice connection with their teacher. That is my take on their belief.

I think my students believe that I’m more energetic and positive than I really am.

 

***** Shallow reflections *****

– If you frowned at some of those and categorised them as “assumptions”, you’re with a few people from that workshop and maybe with me, too.

– As I was typing the notes from the workshop after I’d finished with the post, I surely laughed. It was amazing to see how challenging it is for me to think within strict time limits AND with a presenter walking around the room pressing on me AND with a crowd of other people around. It makes me think that some students might be going through a similar kind of process in my class. I would like to decrease the discomfort level in my lessons though.

– So who is this teacher behind practice? I had no trouble or needed no extra time to come up with a positive (though likely not comprehensive) answer to this question. I believe I am relatively well aware of who I am aside from being a teacher. I might very well be wrong but my belief right now is that as a teacher I am who I am as a person.

– “Who I am is how I teach.” I yet have to dig deeper into the “how I teach” part. Coming up, maybe.

 

*****

This post dramatically and suddenly ends my Asian series of #livebloggingparty. This time blogging happened sitting on tatami around hibachi (which looks to be the Japanese version of Russian samovar but is a totally different experience as you basically burn charcoal inside a table)), in a traditional Japanese room in a most hospitable and nicest house of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. As some of you might have already guessed, Kevin Stein is the host and blogger (and friend) and here’s his writing from tatami. Thank you, Kevin! Thank you.

hibachi

I’m going home.

RP mission statement…loading…

I don’t know if I am allowed to do it in this very first RP challenge I’ve willingly signed up for…But anyway.

 

I, along with all others, was encouraged to think about what my reflective practice mission statement might look like. I have thought about it and come to an (un)easy conclusion:

I can’t make a mission statement before I set out on the mission and go a few steps. This thinking, I anticipate and am quite ready for, may cause some eyebrow-raising and sneering. As it is indeed contradictory to basic principles of all known missions and successful planning. Yet, I have my reasons, obviously.

 

  •  Personal experience shows I’m strong-willed, strong and willing at the beginning of initiatives and then easily slide down to being uninterested and unmotivated. Of course, support and nudge mean a lot. So I have more hopes for this project than for others.
  •  I tend to take unhealthy pleasure from preparations for something (projects and missions). Thinking about them, imagining how they will be done, making long-term unrealistic plans, sharing the excitement with everybody around. I can be a daydreamer, which is not always helpful.
  •  I have this amazing notebook. I like to look at it very much. It came to me from South Korea and was doomed to be used as an RP journal. In these several months I’ve filled it with many words… but mostly not mine. That makes me feel sad and more determined to take up the upcoming challenges (coming as, hopefully, small bites that I will be able to chew). I hope I’ll have some words of my own to fill the pages with.

So, for now, my first RP challenge ends with a failure to formulate my mission statement. I’m not unhappy with it, rather I embrace my way of treating the whole mission. Also, it’s more hedonism))

*****

If you’ve read this and feel confused or annoyed because you think you’re missing some crucial parts of information, this is true. I’m sorry, the text from below should have been an introduction, in fact. It’s all upside down here today.

 

I’ve been reading other teachers’ blogs for a while (almost 3 years, by fits and starts). Reflective Practice (RP for short and forever in this space), as an idea to develop for a teacher after actually going through some mental process of analysis and further action based on it + some research, has long been luring me. Blogs of teachers who do RP have been most insightful to me recently (as well as their authors). I’ve found out there are whole RP meetings in certain parts of the world. And apparently, to my knowledge, there are no such meetings or groups in my country. I hope I’ll try to find a way to introduce this idea to those who could be interested in it here in Russia, while I’m still here (because I’m hopeful I won’t be here from some time on in the future). But as trying to find/make up a group of real-life Russian RP enthusiasts offline is naturally a process too long and painful, doing my own first steps in RP online seems a worthwhile chance (plus attractive in many other respects).

So my mission, one of many this year (which fact probably reduces its chances for consistency and success..), is doing these RP challenges John ObservingTheClass Pfordresher promises to supply me/us all with. The mission with no statement to speak of at the moment.

The invitation to team up for online RP fun is open for everyone, I gather. Join in. The more the merrier/ more reflective/ more analytical.

 

And yes, in line with all of the above…

Ann Loseva’s Space is currently emerging. =)

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