What kind of teacher am I? How do my practices affect my students?
As a relatively new teacher, I sometimes think that it’s the roughness, the learning curve, the occasional flashes of “Yes! Everything worked!” that affect my students more than practices based on ideas about teaching and learning. However, my beliefs about teaching and the kinds of teaching practices I’m drawn to also play a part. I do try and incorporate them.
Applying things – that’s the hard part. My belief is that learning should be a partnership, the teacher’s role to facilitate learning. I believe in student centered learning and like implicit learning, but I find myself teaching in the traditional top down and explicit way. I’d like to rely on planned lessons but end up winging it and relying on textbooks. I believe in scaffolding, but often end up giving my students info in one big indigestible chunk or not explaining things clearly. Why? The nature of the material we have to cover (augh – citizenship test)? Inexperience? Lack of time? Lack of planning? My students’ preference for the straightforward, traditional way?
Of course, overall, things aren’t so stark. Actual teaching seems to be a continuum, sometimes closer to what matches the ideas and sometimes not, and making real life adjustments all the time.
I do think that I try and keep my students needs and preferences to the forefront and to keep it as a mutual respect thing. I do try and always remember what’s going on in their lives and how that affect them. I don’t always get it right, but I think they appreciate it.
Two textbooks that I have found really helpful (especially in connecting beliefs to practice) are:
Planning Lessons and Courses by Tessa Woodward (no I’m not kidding – looking forward to reading about Loops)
Designing Language Courses by Kathleen Graves
To write more specifically about my practices and how they affect my students, I am going back to a paper I wrote for my curriculum design course, (we used Kathleen Graves’ book as the text for the course). We were reflecting on our beliefs and how they played out in our teaching situations. I contrasted two tutoring sessions. E and H were both Turkish mothers of young children and we had sessions (with varying success) at E’s house.
- E and H. To work on as…as was a request from E. It came out a real need and circumstance. She had attended a parent-child conference. The teacher used as…as all the time to talk about E’s son and his progress.
- Even though I stumbled about a bit, it came about that it was broken down into a simple structure, then on to the more complex structure, there was lots of input and working together by H and E (so good to watch). They problem solved it a bit, in that process, even though I had explained the structure, they had to discuss, find examples and think it through together – they, at the same time, figured out the Turkish translation. Then, again by E’s request, we stopped, so the learning was manageable and relaxed. Also, it was something that I could explain with confidence.
- Some other aspects of the language (the pronunciation of as, thus seging into a discussion of curses and American culture) were brought up. Not sure if this counts as teaching all aspects of the language.
V came from Laos with her family as a refugee 30 years ago when she was 16. Her conversational skills were good, but her academic skills were much weaker. She was working full time and attending ESL classes at the local community college.
- Environment was different. I was wired, and tetchy. V was exhausted and stressed out over the situation at work. The material was advanced grammar (adjective phrases) that I hadn’t taught before and didn’t know the details of for usage. I should have reviewed in my own mind, because a lot of my guesses were wrong in some detail. It was one of a series of grammar concepts that V had to do lots of exercises on, and they had to be done exactly right or the computer would complain. It didn’t come out of a real life need, other than to get caught up in class and pass the class. The way they were structuring the course made me mad and I said so (bad idea!). I have to admit that some learning was happening, but I don’t know how much it will stick in the long run (and V and I both said so).
- The material was out of our control and not of our choosing. There was overwhelming amounts of it. The way of it’s presenting was also out of our control.
The underlying beliefs that I’ve extracted from this are that:
- the material should be something that is clearly relevant to the student’s life.
- it should be done in a way so that the student/students can figure it out in their own minds and have enough time to do so.
- I found going from a simple step to a more complex step comfortable myself, especially if doing so will give them some underlying rules for them to figure out other rules of the language.
- Students should be able to have lots of input, work together and be able to be a bit creative. Problem solving is good, as long as they have the materials to solve the problem.
- Learning should be given in manageable chunks.
- The atmosphere should be comfortable (and even fun).
- Learning should be deep – not just for today, not just to pass an assignment.
- I like to have things under my and my students’ control.
If I am confident in my knowledge, and I know what I’m doing (!!!!) the lesson is better.
If we are all relaxed, the lesson is better. If we can work from an underlying structural framework, the lesson is better. If we can provide interesting relevant real-life examples, and involve children, etc. the lesson is better….
As a student teacher, there are things that I’ve found very helpful. Incorporating the experiential cycle into our classes at SIT clarified a lot for me. In our SIT cert course, our teachers gave us a sheet to quickly reflect after lessons, which I will stick in here when I figure out the technology. 🙂 Peer teaching was very helpful, as was co-teaching during my internship. Having feedback during prep time and feedback afterwards on a regular basic has been what has helped me the most to actually put theory to practice. One of the weaknesses of our tutoring program is that we don’t have that as an explicit structure.