Category Archives: Teaching methodology

A little bit of pressure does you good?

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Speaking in English is something that many students find stressful or anxiety provoking. They can fear making mistakes, failing to understand the person they’re speaking too, or simply drying up. So shouldn’t we try to make speaking activities as stress free as possible?

There are certainly benefits to making sure students are well prepared, that they have the necessary language, that they have a clear idea of what the task demands. However, there are also some good arguments for not trying to remove all stress, and even adding some pressure at times

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Filed under classroom management, motivation, neuroscience, Speaking, Teaching methodology

Mindfulness, mental set and classroom management

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Most spiders have four pairs of eyes, which enable them to see what is happening all around them. And most teachers can only wish they had the same ability.

Good teachers do appear to have ‘eyes in the back of their heads’ though. They seem able to sense not just when a student is confused or off task, but even the moment before they are about to go off-task. This ability is sometimes referred to as ‘with-it-ness’, a term coined by the educationalist, Jacob Kounin (1977). Through observing many different classes, Kounin came to the conclusion that the most effective teachers were able to pick up on quite subtle changes in their students’ emotions and behaviour and respond quickly and effectively.

More recently, Robert Marzano (2003) wrote a summary of more than 100 experiments designed to find out which classroom management techniques caused the biggest decrease in disruptions. He looked at explaining and negotiating rules, relationships between teachers and students, rewards and punishments and what he called ‘mental set’. This last was a combination of awareness, or with-it-ness, and a conscious control over how the teacher responded to a disruption.

He found that, by quite some margin, mental set had the biggest positive effect, reducing the number of disruptions by 40%.

What Marzano refers to as mental set could equally well be called mindful awareness, meaning that a more mindful teacher can expect a considerably less disruptive classroom, and by extension, his or her students can expect to do better overall.

In my workshop at IATEFL Brighton 2018 (Mindfulness for ELT Teachers and students, Tuesday 14.55-15.40, Room 6 )I am going to be looking at how teachers can use mindfulness techniques to become more aware of what is happening around them in the classroom, and to respond to difficult behaviour in a more objective, calmer way. We’ll also look at some techniques you can use in the classroom to help your students gain a better mental set.

Kounin, Jacob S. (1977) Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. Huntington, N. Y
Marzano, R (2003) What works in schools: translating research into action, ASCD

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Filed under classroom management, mental set, mindfulness, Teaching methodology, Uncategorized, Working with groups

Climbing above the teaching plateau

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How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as teachers? In my latest post for the British Council Teaching English site, I suggest ten questions that could help you climb above the teaching plateau.

Read the article here.

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Tips and techniques for CELTA teaching practice

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I’m an advocate for CELTA. It isn’t perfect, and you certainly can’t consider the job finished when you pass, but in my experience it’s an excellent way to pick up a lot of skills quickly.

The intensive course is just that- intensive. In fact, I once had a trainee who’d been in the SAS, who said CELTA was harder. But whether you’re doing the intensive course, an online or blended or part-time course, there are a lot of things to learn. In fact,

‘Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.’
Rick Smith, Conscious Classroom Management, 2004, p.44

With this in mind, I’ve just produced my first self-published book, with the-round.com . It’s called the CELTA Teaching Compendium. A compendium is ‘a detailed collection of information on a particular subject, especially in a short book’ (Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners) and in this particular compendium, I’ve set out to provide a quick, easy reference to all the key practical teaching skills taught in CELTA.

If you’re a trainee, you could think of it as being like having your CELTA teaching practice tutor available for questions any time of the day or night. If you’re a CELTA tutor, you could recommend sections to read, either as follow-up to your feedback, or in preparation for teaching practice.

The contents are listed alphabetically, so that the reader can dip in and out. Whenever another key skill is cross-referenced, there’s a link to take you to that section.

Clearly there’s in fact no ‘right’ way to teach. However, the suggestions and tips in this book are based on years of teaching and training teachers. I was also lucky enough to get feedback and further suggestions from a very kind group of CELTA tutors: Ricardo Barros, Viacheslav Kushnir, Anthony Gaughan, Natalia Ladygina, Marie Pettigrew and Zach Pinson.

You can see it on the round here, and the book is available for purchase at $4.99/£4.19 on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Smashwords. I hope you find it useful, and I’d be delighted to get any feedback or the offer of a review.

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Filed under classroom ideas, Planning, Teaching methodology

21st Century skills

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21st century skills is a term that everyone seems to be talking about, yet no-one seems entirely sure what exactly it means. Or rather, everyone interprets it slightly differently. In my latest blog post for the British Council, I look at the skills the World Economic Forum predicts are/will soon be needed in the workplace, and how we can help our students to develop these skills, without completely changing what we are doing already.

 

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Feedback: the most important part of any exercise?

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When you’re preparing a lesson you probably give a lot of thought to the tasks and exercises you plan to include. But how much thought do you give to what happens (or should happen) between the exercises? In my latest post for the British Council Teaching English blog, I consider the importance of feedback and look at some different ways to do it.

Read the post here.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/61914949@N00/23755361233/”>Sean Davis</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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Filed under classroom ideas, Differentiation, Planning, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

In praise of praise?

How much do you praise students? Are you one of those teachers who automatically responds ‘good’ to any utterance, even if it’s actually hopelessly wrong or impossible to follow? Or do you believe in only praising very infrequently if at all, so that any praise is really valued? Probably, like me, you’re somewhere in the middle.

But have you actually made conscious decisions about how much praise to give, what kind of praise to give and when?

Most people are aware that praise which is perceived as not really having been earned, could have a negative effect.  If it’s just a reflex, students will cease to really listen to it. There is also some evidence that  too much praise can ‘convey a message of low expectations’ for low achievers, and even make stronger students less willing to take risks

So praise does have to be genuine, and it’s also important to think about what and how we praise. General praise (e.g. good job, well done) is, according to many researchers (Brophy, 1981; Gable et al. 2009; Hattie & Timperley 2007; Kalis, Vannest, & Parker 2007; Lannie, & McCurdy, 2007; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2005- cited in Burnett and Mandel) not very effective. That makes sense to me because I think we all need to know what exactly we have done well, if we are to learn from the praise.

Most researchers agree that praise aimed at the students’ work is likely to be more effective than praise aimed at the student’s ability. So, saying ‘you are very good at spelling’ is not as effective as saying, ‘You worked hard and learnt all ten spellings really well,’  One reason for this is because students may come to believe that they cannot change what they are naturally good (or not good) at. It also means that those students who are not naturally good at something are unlikely to receive much praise, which is demotivating. (That said, if a student is actually very capable but lacks self-confidence, it can be helpful to praise their ability.)

The important thing, I would suggest, is that praise is specific, and a form of feedback, rather than a way of being ‘nice’.  Geoff Petty, a UK based teacher trainer in mainstream education (not ELT) talks about ‘medal and mission’ feedback.

A ‘medal’ is specific information about what a student has done well. So, in a writing task, for example, you might say ‘You have a very clear introduction and conclusion.’. A ‘mission’  is a specific piece of feedback about something that the student needs to improve. For example, ‘you need to make sure that each paragraph has one main idea’

There is, of course, much more to ‘medal and mission’ than just praise, but thinking of praise in terms of medals for specific achievements is helpful I think.

However, and it’s a big however, some researchers have found that praise of any sort can have at best a neutral effect, and at worst a negative effect.  Various pieces of research quoted in this article concluded that praise had very little positive effect and Skipper and Douglas found that praising ability actually had a negative effect (while praising effort had no effect at all).

My gut feeling and experience (as a learner and teacher) still tells me that specific and carefully thought out praise does have a positive effect on most students. So, what do you think? Is it different for different students? Does it make a difference what kind of praise it is, or when or how it is given? Comments very welcome.

 

Further reading

http://www.learningspy.co.uk/behaviour/praise-counterproductive/

http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/feedback-and-questions/

http://www.interventioncentral.org/behavioral-interventions/motivation/teacher-praise-efficient-tool-motivate-students

 

 

 

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Filed under motivation, Teaching methodology, Working with groups