Some notes on a note…

  • I like hand-written materials. Maybe I was born a bit too late – meant to be a hippy ELT materials writer of that bygone era when coursebooks were full of calligraphic fonts, fun (if sometimes loaded) cartoons, and often creative presentations sans sophisticated corporate editorship.
  • So…teachers I work with sometimes get pic-snaps of stuff like the below, which is just a snippet of a 4-pager about some conventional basic technique-options when teaching a new vocabulary item.
  • I’m post-CELTA (hopefully not terminally) but not “post-CELTA”; here I go suggesting so-called “CCQs”, the bread-n’-butter ITT course ubermove.
  • This snippet is less sketch-notey than other bits. I think it’s a combination of being vaguely bored (?), enjoying doodling, and having some sense that in the absence of hand-on demonstration, illustration at least gives some life to this stuff for a teacher who might find acronym-laden directives a bit dry that leads me to that kind of thing. Trainees in the past have given some positive feedback about it.
  • On the previous page of the note below I wrote out an imagined T-Ss elicitation that leads to nobody knowing, and the teacher asking if they know the L1 word (seen here), and then telling them that in English, it’s “ingredient”. I thought this was pretty realistic. I’m hypersensitive about the over-extension of “eliciting” as a teaching tool. I usually call it an effective engagement technique.
  • I also like the idea that CCQing isn’t just for checking and confirming comprehension but also a kind of ‘cognitive classroom management’ move that helps assess (and sustain, if they’re not boring) attention levels.
  • I never want to suggest CCQs are the *one and only* way we should wrap up a focus on an item’s semantic meaning in lessons. Always automatic CCQing? Nobody does that, and they really shouldn’t! So here it’s #1 (ask CCQs) but followed by other ideas.

EDIT: Just glanced at twitter and saw someone liked a tweet from last year where I shared this pic of a training-room poster I made:

…which, looking at it there, I guess is clear further evidence of my interest in ‘illustrated text’ in educative materials.

I’ll try to find and post more examples of this when I can.

Teaching Practicum Supervisor Diary #1: What’s what…

atcq

…it’s “heel up, wheel up” for me as I start in a new position here at a university program in central Thailand, and my mind juices are flowing as I commence supervising teachers on their practicums. I’d like to have a powerful impact, but I need to be patient and cautious – NOT as if “shot out of a cannon”. I’ll write about various aspects of it here but, as usual, not particularly extensively. So there may be some imagination required – even some attempted “mind-reading” – if you would like to get beyond what’s on the screen. Or you can always leave a comment and ask a question if there are any curiosities that call out for answers! 

Where to start? Well, since I’m only just right out of the gate, the basic scenario:

  • I’m the ‘lesson plan supervisor’ for 3 student teachers in their 5th year of a 5-year TEFL BA program. They are teaching at a public middle/high school for the semester. I will observe lessons over the next 3 weeks (before others observe them further), and receive and give feedback on all their lesson plans for 9 weeks.
  • One teaches 7th grade, another 10th, the other 12th. They teach 9 periods/week, 3 times each to three class sections of their grade.
  • They have their university-based lesson plan supervisor & lesson observers as well as a school-based mentor teacher. Theirs is a highly experienced teacher who is head of the English language instruction at their school.
  • The school serves a poorer population of families in the neighboring province, and the average English language proficiency level is on the lower end for this region.
  • I have been to the school only once to meet my three student teachers and their mentor teacher. I had short tour of the school from which I can assess the facilities as basic but functional.
  • I will drop-in observe lessons this week with a focus on the learner population and school/classroom context. Next week I will initiate teacher observations more formally.
  • The three student teachers and I have established an effective and active channel of communication via a private Line App group. This was quickly set up by one of them at the outset of the semester. I am also using Google Drive to host their lesson plans with my written feedback, and I’m using Google Forms to collect more info from them re: teacher beliefs, personal experiences as ELLs, resources, needs, etc.
 img_1798

That’s all for now – just setting the scene today (for you, dear reader) and taking account (for me, dear delf).

Right. So yeah, I’ll likely use this blog to keep some kind of simple running diary over the next little while, focused on how this practicum unfolds/ideas and issues that come up. I expect it to help me a) organize my thoughts in order to deliver effective supervision (reflection-for-action), as well as b) meditate on my experiences in order to imagine alternatives (reflection-on-action).

I may also continue to strrrretch to somehow someway include references to 1990s rap music as above here ;). Why? Because that kind of thing, I’ve found, tends to help make reflective practice activities feel more fun, creative, and vibrant to me. There’s sometimes an air of stifling ‘seriousness’ around (self-)reflective practice that I can find make it less-than-uninspiring. Even calling blogpost-writing ‘reflective’ seems to add a lacquer of translucent stiffness. RP or RIP? Maybe it’s just me being spoiled feeling like fun/vaguely clever pop-culture references, etc. effectively disarm encroaching formality. Is it just me who needs this to be fun? I don’t think it is – I’d say I learned how this sorta kinda works (for me, for some) from the likes of Michael Griffin. Anyway, this might be a kind of ‘reflection on reflection’ thread I’m initiating here for this particular ‘diary’ series…we’ll see if it has legs.

***

Anyway, back to what’s actually going down right here, right now. Here is one bit of…I dunno, meta-advice? what do you call it…that I gave them just now:

newgrab

In a future diary entry I’d like to write a bit about why I believe that this would be something important to acknowledge/establish early on. Cheers.

Theorizing Down

In this brilliant talk at KOTESOL from 2013, Dick Allwright explains:

Theorizing down for me…means looking for what I would call a ‘livable understanding’. What the scientists are supposed to do is come up with a statable explanation…I’m saying what it makes more sense to do, in practice, is to theorize down in the sense of looking for understandings that you can live, that help you live even if you can’t tell people exactly what it is you’ve understood.

I don’t actually have a lot to say here except that *geez Louise* does Allwright eloquently describe the whole point, for me personally, of reflecting – both intellectually and emotionally – on teaching/training experiences! And the whole point of studying, reading ELT blogs and books and articles. And of connecting with a PLN in person and online. And of writing this blog. Every post. This post.

It’s the final bit, the “even if you can’t tell people exactly what it is you’ve understood” that is the truly priceless recognition that makes this different and makes this very special to me. I’m not kidding in the slightest when I say this makes me want to hug him. I mean REALLY hug him big. Why?

Because this is Allwright setting to rights, for me, so much of what generates a good deal of tension, and confusion, and disappointment around the so-called ‘theory-practice divide’ from a teacher’s perspective. The very idea of a ‘divide’ tends to connote a horizontal chasm that therefore requires the problematization of movement ‘over’ and ‘across’. But that’s all wrong. The real issue is with ‘up’ and ‘down’!

And this is Allwright assuaging my anxiety about being so often disappointingly inarticulate around what I thought I understood through experience and reflection.

And maybe even various means of reflection I use need not come in for the occasional caustic self-doubt that they do because they don’t always conform to X or Y set of recommendations/requirements.

There’s more, maybe a lot more on the list of what this does for me that I’ll have to sit with a while before I can write it here.

“Theorizing down” – damn that’s a good referent for…this thing! My thing. Maybe your thing too, for your reasons. Your deeper focus on teaching and learning work in the lab of your own heart and mind. Whatever words are used to describe it, it’s something I know I’ve always tried to be good at and want to be better at. This is why I really appreciate Dick Allwright’s fascinating and very, very heartful work on “understanding classroom life” and I’m excited to continue exploring it.

On that ‘appreciation’ note, I recall that I ended my first ‘Research Bite’ here with this (fixed up a little bit):

By letting the description of Ann’s practice ‘speak for itself’, this study accords with Dick Allwright’s view of practitioners as “people trying to reach locally helpful understandings, not new knowledge” and inspires, in me, appreciation of research which actually serves practitioners (especially me!) in that effort.

Maybe a couple other connections before I wrap it up:

  • Perhaps this supports questioning required/formalized reflection on initial teacher training courses – it should be voluntary and more flexible in how it can be performed.
  • Perhaps, if they would like to help ‘close the theory-practice’ divide, more researchers who are focused on teachers (even – especially! – the more hip/woke ones who do work on reflection, etc.) should be *very mindful* of how the language they use can strike teachers as being ‘talked down’ to. This is not a good kind of ‘down’. And they should more often recognize, acknowledge, and maybe even explore (though leaving this part up to teachers will probably be just fine, too – maybe, just maybe, you’re not “needed”) this profound truth: teachers are NOT interested, (all the meanings of that word) in producing the same type of knowledge that you are.
*all apologies from this yank for turning Allwright’s Ss into Zs here.

ListeNotes #2 (Part 1): Interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016

What is “ListeNotes”?

Well, according to me (Noble, 2016) it’s “a new genre of blogpost [where] I listen to a podcast, take notes, clean them up a bit, and post ’em on up! That’s it.” My first “ListeNotes” post was published back in February ’16. In it, I listened to Anthony Ash’s appearance on The TEFL Show with Marek Kiczkowiak.

Now, at (very!) long last, I’ve decided to give ListeNotes another go. After all, having declared “ListeNotes” to be a whole new blogpost genre, I feel that I’m kinda sorta on the hook to actually do it more than just the once. This time I’m listening to an interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham.

scrive

Jim Scrivener (semi-regular tweets here) is a well-known author and trainer and is and currently “Teacher Training Ambassador” at Bell. Readers of this blog probably need no introduction to JS, but here’s his bio from the Bell site:

js bio.jpeg

The interview took place shortly after JS’s talk on ‘simplifying’ teacher training. (I searched for slides from or posts about the talk itself, but failed to find them).

The “interview description” reads: Jim talks about shaking up teacher training by simplifying messages and allowing more personal, deeper thought and exploration in practice. Trainers can start with a naive seed of thought and teach teachers how to confidently explore their own assumptions.

Here we go… #amlistening

First they joke a bit about JS’s job title “teacher training ambassador”. I can’t help but imagine this getting Geoffrey Jordon’s back all the way up. 😉 Then JS describes what his talk was about.

JS: “My talk was a suggestion that maybe we tend to over-complicate stuff [in] initial teacher training”. I think the way JS describes his conference presentation here, “talk = suggestion“, is kind of interesting in itself. It sounds so very casual. Of course, conference talks of every type are, for most teachers at least, “suggestions” of varying degrees of explicitness. I like that he simply describes it as such…and I like how one of ELT’s elder statesmen clearly feels less-than-fully content about the state of teacher training in ELT but is remaining calm and presenting his own input into things with this soft touch. I think he models some really attractive habits of mind here. He comes across as having emotional intelligence and an ability to bring it to bear on his work. He’s not offering challenges, manifestos, calls to arms – nope….simply…a suggestion. Nothing intimidating here; he uses the word ‘maybe’ a couple of times.

Stepping back and adjusting my critical monocle a bit, it also occurs to me that perhaps it’s precisely someone like JS who could frame a conference talk so casually. Some might imagine JS, having earned his ‘ambassadorship’ along with such financial success from some arguably “complicating” books used ubiquitously on CELTA courses, hopping around the ELT globe floating these “suggestions” and wielding words of wisdom but NOT, fully, his power and influence to set things to rights more incisively.

That monocle I adjusted isn’t really mine. I borrow it from some of the more seriouser folks in my PLN for whom JS represents an ‘old guard’ of ELT which shares the blame for its sorry state. They aren’t satisfied with the suggestion givers. Geoffrey Jordan, mentioned above, being perhaps the most conspicuous among them. Is everything political? I’d say basically yes – I think there’s politics in/of everything, but…I move in and out of thinking in political terms when it comes to ELT issues – for better or for worse, in all honesty, I’m not very consistent with it. But this also was a thing that came up in my head as I listened to ‘Ambassador Scrivener’!

For the record, I am and have always been a huge fan of JS’s stuff: Learning Teaching holds up better than most ELT methodology books and don’t think it’s necessarily ‘complicating’. From the very title of it onwards, yes. And here’s the kicker: since at least the 3rd edition that book has contained one chapter (pretty much at the end, called ‘The pack of cards’) that is pretty much a 52-item list of really good “naive seeds”. So he’s been practicing what he’s preaching here for a while. That section has become by far my favorite and most-used part of a book I’ve gotten a LOT of mileage out of since I met it on my own CELTA in 2005 (the other part of the book I’ve used most: the DVD!).

pack

There’s also a number of his presentations I’ve seen at TESOLs that are sincerely memorable. I can quote from ‘hyperlink heroin‘ to this day and think about how dynamic it was when I’m prepping for any talk. And there’s the Demand High idea(s), which I have found very helpful for my development.

Okay, moving on to the idea that we over-complicate things in ITT, um…yes. Yes. Yes. Let’s keep listening then…

The way CELTA and other ITT courses tend to be delivered, JS says, “weighs people down” by trainers bringing so much of “other people’s expertise, and knowledge, and good practice and everything on [their] shoulders…”. 

JS mentions that this notion came to him one day as he was preparing to deliver a CELTA input session on reading and realized that it was all just. way. too. much. As a course tutor I can very easily relate! I absolutely often found myself ‘up all night’ deciding what to bring into a 75-minute introductory session on such-n’-such for CELTA, and struggling to ‘fit’ what I wanted to include into the time given because I had it in my head that ‘more is better’. Despite the fact that I was consciously anti-clutter in my philosophy of teaching/training by the time I started in teaching training. I was dogme’d. If you look at my old blog you can see me pro-actively working against this, trying to supplant it with more zen-tinged minimalism. But it’s a battle against the magnetic attraction of more, more, more.

At least as much as not, I’d have that ‘pop’ moment and realize that I was struggling up a steepness I’d built up myself unnecessary. I’d get the urge for more out of my system, I guess, and end up using a couple of bits for a good (enough) input session.

Scrivener calls what he’d rather be brought into these decluttered training sessions a “naive seed”, which could even be a single sentence or two, for example, for a listening workshop: “give them lots of chances to listen, and give them feedback on what they do”. The way I see it, the idea is to supply some simple ‘gateway’ information, an invitation to inquiry, a ‘spark’ for trainees’ exploration. I like this…but like dogme teaching, however, less is more not only for the students but also for the teacher or trainer! What do I mean? A key skill that trainers clearly need to bring for this approach to work is the ability to work with the emergent language ideas that come up productively, continuing to feed and guide the exploration expertly. This ain’t easy. And it’s not just that kind of skill – it’s actually, I’d say, all that same knowledge (and maybe then some?) that you’d have been cramming into sessions before you dog’d it. I found that in the most successful of those input sessions I’d over-prepared but then ended up running based on a much simpler set of information/materials/activities, I ended up needing most of the stuff I’d chosen not to explicitly front-load to be fresh in my mind anyway. It wasn’t always presented fully, but it informed how I responded and guided things ‘in flow’.

PS – I suppose I’m just restating what I think is an oft-made defense of dogme: it’s not just lazy teaching! (In lazy teaching or training less is less).

PPS – I googled “naive seed” and got nothing at all. Google just gives you results for “native seed”. It’s a striking and original coinage by JS, I’m left to assume!

PPPS – just today there’s a profound (and profane) Secret DOS post related to dogme (original vs. mainstream) and planning.

JS: “…maybe [this approach] actually interferes with people’s ability to look intelligently at what they’re doing and to think for themselves…maybe there’s a case for encouraging trainers to start from simplicity rather than complexity”. 

JS: “…wouldn’t that be a better starting point for a new teacher?”.  

Actually, the very first thing that comes to mind in terms of simplifying CELTA is Anthony Gaughan asking ‘Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?‘ (it turns out I blogged about it in 2014 here). Having met a handful of CELTA trainers over the last few years I’d say we’re all on a spectrum. It’s also not so linear…I mean, we’ve all got jagged profiles. Thinking of one trainer, if you saw the way they approach, say, tutorials (high structure), you might be surprised by the way they approach input sessions (low structure), etc.

“Starting from simplicity” really DOES seem like a better starting point. Where’s the research on this? (No, seriously…where?!?!).

This brings up the recurring debate (seems to me like it comes to the fore every couple of years) about the inadequacies of the popular 4-week ITT format. Seems to me that part of what makes even me, zen-master CELTA tutor wannabe minimalist, keep coming back to feed at the trough of more is the awareness that for fucks’ sake we’ve got FOUR SHORT WEEKS to get these people into teacher shape! Let’s GOOOOOO! Cram babies, craaaam!

That’s not ideal. That’s not good.

Right, thus (abruptly?) ends Part 1. I’m only about two minutes into the eight minute interview here, so expect lots more ListeNotes on this interview to follow soon! 🙂

I hope there’s a little bit of there there to provide some food for thought. As always, I’ll encourage you to use the comment function to leave a note if you’re so inclined!

 

M2M Vlog #4 (whilst IATEFLing Online)

Following #IATEFL2018 livetweets and watching the livestreams/recordings of selected talks as been great so far. In a handful of ways its is actually better than attending in person – you’re free of some typical conference downers. There’s no frantic jogging from session to session, no social anxiety when you bump into people you admire, the hangovers after nights out with those very same people (the anxiety subsides when, yet again, the fact that ELT is full of all the nicest people is confirmed). There are advantages, including how you can skim some of the best, more pertinent ideas from a multitude of sessions via livetweet and/or videos, and there’s a lot of the kind of semi-frenetic conceptual crosshatching that I very much enjoy.

Of course with all that said, I’d rather be in attendance! No matter how you plug into it, IATEFL is a jolt of a massive amount of intellectual input. There’s so much to follow up on. There’s so much to reflect on. So, thought I, maybe I’ll use my little “M2M TV” video-posting project here this month to do some bits of responding and reflecting. And here’s the first one. It’s something I deeply wanted to delete after watching back a bit (and not just because the angle highlights what I’m going to describe as my ScrivenerChin) but I resisted. I’m going to trust my original intention to just ‘put myself out there’ – that’s a big part of this.

I’ve been putting bullet-pointed overviews first, but because the text I’ve got to add is more extensive here (not bullet points this time) it comes after video.

I chose 3 things to talk about for this video. They are generally unrelated beyond the fact that they came up via watching IATEFL today:

  1. The (perhaps slightly odd?) way that the notion of “Teacher Development Over Time” strikes me, and why I like it.
  2. Reason #4080 why I wish I was still a full-time CELTA tutor: I could try using Slack during peer-observation in TP like Alastair Douglas describes.
  3. The influence of research on error correction for me personally does not correspond with Ortega’s characterization of it in her (fantastic!) plenary as an area of research which has failed to affect teachers and teaching.

I wrote some quick notes just before making this video. These are them clean up and expanded a bit below:

-1-The new book is “Teacher Development Over Time” by Freeman, Woodward, and Graves. That title with ‘over time’ in is weirdly striking to me! Why? Hmm..I imagine it carries with it an assumption that we’ve GOT time. It’s also echoes refreshing patience. And reassurance maybe? Despite everything, you’ve…got time. And you DO develop. 

But it somehow buzzes with background conflict too, for me. Because:

We’ve got working conditions so bad on average that nobody even wants to mention them for fear of bringing the whole partay down (we really should though). 

We’ve on mental health issues that go way beyond anything we’re doing to meet their challenge (this is something we are just beginning to talk about at conferences). 

On a related note, we’ve got big bad burnout around every corner.

And we’ve got, maybe too, this clusterf*ck patchwork of dysfunctional, impotent professional development schemes to fuel us forward OR NOT. 

I’m reminded of the (seminar? to me it is) articleDo EFL teachers have careers? by Bill Johnston from TESOL Quarterly 1997 (1997 by the way, was a really interesting year in ELT it seems to me). 

Ultimately, it’s the optimism the time suggests, I think. And I’m optimistic. So I really like it. If we can and do develop OVER TIME, we must have careers after all. And we must be as resilient, determined to keep fixing up this mess, and as INTO IT as I suspect we are. 

– 2 – 

Alastair Douglas, CELTA/DELTA trainer, spoke on the effectiveness of observation tasksAll kinds of great stuff generally about peer-observation tasks on a course.

But also, great some nichey stuff for CELTA (& similar) trainers – including: he’s been using Slack to allow peer-observering trainees to log their observation task thoughts immediately, and it all gets shared in the chat space immediately, building a thread. 

And an even more specific bit about that – based on a Q from the audience (isn’t it great to have actual, good time for productive Q & A? I’m still working on that as a relatively new presenter person!) about its effect on the F2F group feedback session that happens after TP.

Alastair talked about being very helpful. Didn’t have to ask the trainees “so, what did you think of it then?” because already know what they thought. It helped feedback get quickly past the slightly uncomfortable reporting opinions, etc.

I think simply recalling the observation – even with some written notes (honestly, if they’re millennials especially, what good are written notes even, for many?) takes up a lot of energy sometimes. So yeah. Such a GREAT innovation. 

So, in the ensuing feedback sessions he could get to more “OK, so how might we do Y different, what did you learn from Z, etc.” – more of the really important stuff! It made oral group feedback much easier. Totally. I wish I were on CELTAs right now to do this!!!

– 3 –

This is something I plan to blog about more, but in Ortega’s plenary she gave two examples of research, the first successfully impacting teachers and teaching and the other failing to do so. The success being research on motivation, and the failure being research on error correction. 

First point: I have no reason to doubt her description here. But it’s funny, because for me personally, the EC research has had a PROFOUND effect on my teaching (and teacher training work). 

ecresearch
What if I found that research on and related to EC actually inspired and informed a rich journey of professional self-discovery?

Second point: her putting motivation and error correction (or corrective feedback as I’d rather call it) next to each other here got my juices flowing…in my ELTresearch bites summary of a study on the sophisticated CF practices of an expert teacher I describe it as research that “spotlights two key practices which systematically imbue classroom corrective feedback episodes with engaging positivity”. What I meant by “engaging positivity” there, and what I probably could have written instead, is actually, essentially MOTIVATION. A deep kind that is maybe emergent in interaction during the act of focused study with a teacher. 

This then reminded me, too, that my very first foray into ‘presenting’ anything online or F2F was a little 15 minute contribution to a sort of peer2peer webinar thing organized by one David Deubelbeiss. It was 2012, maybe late 2011. I’d been reading as much of the research literature on CF as I could find during my time as an MA TESOL student working with Dr. Marnie Reed, who was particularly inspiring on that front.

My topic? ‘Corrective feedback as a classroom management technique”. 

The point? I don’t think everyone is missing the complexity inherent in CF!

I think people in my PLN like Steve Brown – also a presenter at IATEFL this year – have indeed been exploring things (including corrective feedback for sure) outside of the formal research vein for a good while and with a lot of energy and with a CLEAR eye on complexity. Brown’s stuff on ‘preflection’ is a great example, in my opinion. I think that outside of the formal halls, there’s an amazing array of teacher-generated co-inquiry that influences and supports and affects teachers and teaching in profound ways.

Three words I don’t end my video with but maybe should have:

READ. THE. BLOGS.

(I heard Gabrielle Díaz Maggioli talking in his TEFLology interview about ELT blogs as a more-than-valid source of professional knowledge. He’s way ahead of the game IMO).

Can’t remember the session but I screenshot this today from #IATEFL2018 Twitter. Seems to go with “READ THE BLOGS” above…

Thanks for checking this out. As always, do consider leaving some kind of response in the comments section below. You have no idea how much better that makes all of this. Or maybe you do. In which case, what are you waiting for? 🙂

 

PS – does “thought dump” sound as bad to you as it does to me?  😛

Teacher-Centered, Part 2 (M2M Vlog #3)

Because this one logs in at 15 minutes (!) and, in it, I live up to the Ol’ Ramblin’ Noble nickname (that’s just my steez for these videos – sleek professional efforts they ain’t), I’ve listened back and jotted down the bullet-pointed basics below for the 99% of you for whom yeah that’s just not happening.

Nothing earth-shattering here as usual, but if something, anything, sparks a thought in you please don’t be shy to share it in the comment section please!

Tweet-length summary: “student/teacher-centered” are catch-all terms that carry a lot of water but I think may do more harm than good in some ways if a (naive?) new teacher like me gets hung up on the simplistic dichotomy. 

What I talk about in the Vlog vid:

  • Before I get into the topic, I get a little emotional about the very recent passing of silent way teacher and #ELTchat regular Glenys Hanson.
  • The “student-centered” vs. “teacher-centered” dichotomy *looms large* as a fundamental sense-making concept especially for new teachers.
  • As expressed in Part 1, teacher-centeredness is a ‘bugaboo’ whereas student-centerness lies at the heart of what we think of when we think of good practice.
  • In some sense (this is the thought experiment, really), “I wish I’d never heart of student-centered vs. teacher-centered“.
  • Obviously this axiomatic dichotomy is natural, useful, and accurate intellectual frame for understanding the foregrounding of learner agency in
  • Sometimes it seems like a “brittle dichotomy” more than a “dialectical monism” (like the yin-yang) which expresses a “fruitful paradox”
  • But is it a “conceptual bull in a china shop” in that it might paper over some of the (manageable) complexity that lies beyond simplistic conception?
  • The ‘-center’ word here is a killer – it does nothing at all. It’s conceptually unproductive, or worse, carries quite unhelpful associations.
  • What’s the difference between starting from a more (so-called) teacher-centered approach that can grow towards the student-centered side vs. starting on the student-centered end and developing the teacher-centered side from there.
  • Part of me wished I’d actually been trained to be (effectively, skillfully) teacher-centered FIRST, and then learned to shirt towards a student-centered approach.
  • The terms ‘student-centered’ and ‘teacher-centered’ strike me personally as anachronistic and overbearing, so I haven’t been using them for a good while especially as a trainer.
  • I don’t say this, but I think that forgoing these particularly ‘umbrella terms’ can make room for more apt and specific descriptors of particular classroom dynamics, e.g. if the teacher is talking and the students are very passively listening, calling it that, looking at why, and then exploring at how the teacher could make their explanation more engaging (or scrap it all together for guided discovery, etc.) = much preferable to simply stamping it “teacher-centered” and kind of shutting down a more open-eyed examination. Words matter. The terms we use when inculcating newbies into a whole new field of thought and action REALLY matter.
  • Finally, a livetweet from Chris Mares’ IATEFL talk reminds me of one of the things I avoided (or felt guilty about when I didn’t) for far to long because of the “teacher-centered” idea being lodged too far up my brainstem: telling (and exploiting) stories and anecdotes in the classroom!

Other notes: Part of me is embarrassed by my lack of efficient eloquence here, and wants to mention being totally exhausted after a near-sleepless night and a long, hot, very busy day today // I never once seem to actually acknowledge the value of student-centeredness in the video, and it feels weird; I found myself wondering if I come across as some kind of backwards, devolved ELTer, knuckle-dragging into his ‘teacher-centered’ classrooms or worse, promoting ‘teacher-centeredness’ to trainees. Which is weird..I think that’s just how deep it goes, how truly ‘wrong’ it feels – while in reality I essentially aspire to be a Silent Way teacher like Glenys ;P // I kind of remember – or maybe I’m imagining but it feels true – that “it was really…teacher-centered” was kind of the worst feedback you could get on your CELTA teaching practice lesson // This relates to the surprisingly common experience of CELTA trainees hearing feedback to the tune of “maybe you should have explained that more” or similar – even towards the very end of the course – and saying something like “but I thought we weren’t supposed to ‘teach’?!”, having unfortunately conflated “student-centeredness” with complete and utter “non-teacherness” // There are plenty of ways for the teacher to be “centered” in some fashion in the class and for learners to be engaged, active, and learning…or for the teacher AND the learners to be at the “center” simultaneously…so, just more reasons why I don’t like the way this dichotomy solidifies things so much the way it tends to.

TScentered

I think the image on the left should also be fit inside of the circle in the image on the right and/or you just smash the two images together, see where things fall, and maybe get a more realistic visual of an actual classroom.

*I couldn’t find an original source for the image above.

***

glenys

Glenys

Teacher-Centered, Part 1 (not a video)

I wanted to post another video but it’s late and this sleepshadowed house is just too magically quiet, too miraculously still just now; I don’t want to disturb the zen! It’s like a mirror-perfect ambrosial pond that you don’t want anything to touch and disturb the smooth surface of. The stillness is also weighted comfortably by an unseasonal cool – in my little neck of the jungle anyway (usually April in Thailand = sweat-drenched by breakfast). I just don’t dare disturb it with clangy vloggery lest the spell be broken. But I did have something I wanted to share.

It’s on the same theme as this month’s iTDi (upcoming) blog issue concerned with “things you wish you knew when you started teaching”. One thing I wish I understood better & sooner as a younger teacher is: what ‘teacher-centered’ means (and doesn’t).

A ‘teacher-centered’ dynamic, I learned early on, is something bad. Not just bad – truly horrible. Why? The mind-map around ‘teacher-centered’ includes things like boring, self-indulgent, unaware, disengaged, lecture, egotistical, misguided, unsophisticated, even cruel. Why cruel? Because by being teacher-centered you are depriving learners of the opportunity to act. They are passive, they are (I guess) DE-centered. Why egotistical? The center of attention is you.

How dare you.

Very early on, in the absence of…well, really ANY solid knowledge of a wide array of language and instructional concerns, this kind of melodramatic, broad-as-broad-can-be-stroke sense of a ‘good vs. evil’ struggle of ELT was front and center to me. I didn’t know how to teach, but it seemed like if I stayed on the bright path of ‘learner-centeredness’ I’d be okay. I’d say for me this idea actively animated my whole view of the new world I was peering into. My TEFL (B-)movie had a director and his name was Learners B. Centre. He was no Orson Wells. But he sure knew plot. It was all very compelling.

What I wish I realized sooner was that the concept of ‘X-centered’ is…

/ok, two things have happened that will make this Part 1 of 2: first, the cool stillness and the slow typing on a phone keyboard have helped 2am creep up and second, I’ve just learned that PLN member, #ELTchat regular and all-around “never met her but totally love her” person Glenys Hanson has passed away so it’s time to just think about my memories of interactions with her.

*Silent Drums* for Glenys

*My wife grabbed that drum this afternoon after my niece and step-father and I had finished practicing for a upcoming short performance at a community center. For my part I’m playing a beautiful little traditional quiet droning gong-bell…and I will think of Glenys and her elegant and knowing ‘silent way’ philosophies as I play it.