Learning while teaching, teaching while learning (DISAL article 2)

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In his book Learning Teaching, Jim Scrivener suggests that “there is a kind of teaching that is also a kind of learning – a ‘learning teaching’. It’s not just the students who do the learning, but you do as well. You teach and you learn – and the two things are intertwined. Outside and inside the class, you live and you learn”. He then goes on to say that this is not something you only do while you’re being trained for the first time, “when you are a ‘green’, new teacher”, and suggests that “any teacher who has stopped learning themselves has probably also stopped being useful as a teacher.”

My first column here was less than successful. It was too long, maybe. It included a task. It didn’t reach its objective (nobody did the task, for instance). I learned from it, and am now trying, the second time around, a different approach. This is not unlike what we should do after a class: think back to it and decide whether or not it was successful, whether or not the audience – for me here, you; for you in your class, every single one of your students – benefitted from it, reached their goals.

How to do that, though, you ask? I believe there are a few ways:

  • Thinking of success of a whole course, you should ask yourselves whether the students look motivated and if they have been showing up for classes. This is obviously very important. When students start getting very busy and end up disappearing from classes altogether, something is definitely wrong. If it’s one-to-one students we’re talking about, then too many canceled classes should also sound our internal alarms!
  • Thinking of an individual class, I believe the questions would be Did the students look like they were having a good time? Were they aloof and reticent, or active and participative? In the same way we can commonly tell whether a student has grasped a concept just by the look in their eyes, we can usually also tell whether we’ve made a positive difference in their learning process during – and after – each class just by judging their… non-verbal communication. Pay close attention!
  • Objectives: It is, however, my belief that the best way to gauge the success of a class is to think of your aims. Regardless of how thoroughly you plan your lessons (if you write down a detailed plan, just a few scribbled lines on post-it notes or just ‘in your head’ really), you need to have clear objectives for each and every lesson when you walk into the class. Something along the lines of after this class, my students will be better able to give directions in English, or students will make fewer mistakes with –ed past endings might be enough. Then, if by the end of the lesson you are convinced students have indeed achieved these goals (got better at something, are making fewer mistakes with something – achievable goals!), you can bask in the certainty that you have made a difference, that your class was successful.

One form of ‘learning teaching’ is thus assessing success in your lessons, not insisting again on what didn’t work before as well as repeating and sharpening/adapting ideas that were successful previously. Another way, among many others, is to observe peers teaching and have your lessons observed – but this, lesson observation, is the topic for next month!

The task for the month – a much simpler one – is to comment here on the LAST lesson you taught and why in your opinion it was(n’t) successful.

All the best and see you next month!

PS: Workshop this Friday – October 28th – on using blogs for language learning. At the DISAL Auditorium from 2 to 4 p.m.

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