Category Archives: Teaching methodology

Developing Teachers with a Growth Mindset

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This is a guest post by Gabriella Lawson, Teacher Developer for Monash College English Language Centre. Gaby is responsible for helping to develop teachers’ classroom delivery through designing and running professional development and observing and feeding back on teaching practice.

Our main focus is always on teaching and helping our students, so it is sometimes easy to forget that in order to get the best out of our students, we need to get the best out of ourselves. Professor John Hattie has said that one of the reasons Growth Mindset may not have made an impact on student results was a lack of teacher training. It becomes a bit like ‘do as I say but not as I do’ if the school has a Growth Mindset policy, but the teacher hasn’t fully understood how that works in practice yet.

Growth Mindset could give us some much needed answers about why our students are not motivated. In English language teaching, we see some students giving up who believe they are not good at English. We see students avoiding speaking in class due to a fear of mistakes. Other examples are students who avoid going to free extra workshops even though they need help. That’s why we need to train teachers to develop a growth mindset about their own teaching. After all, what teachers believe about learning has a big influence on what students believe about learning.

Mistakes are how we learn. Brain plasticity means that as we form new neural pathways there will be misfires; recent research tells us that our brains are more likely to remember and correct a mistake if we have positive feelings about the lesson. Similarly, teachers are more likely to take feedback if they have positive feelings about their observation. If teachers aren’t worried about losing face, they are more likely to take risks in the classroom or ask for help when they face a challenge instead of suffering in silence until the complaints roll in.

The first step is to see observations as professional development, so the aim is for teachers to choose something they’d like to get better at. The second is to stop thinking of observations as ‘teacher observations’ but to think of them as ‘lesson observations’. If teachers feel they are being evaluated as a person, research supporting Growth Mindset suggests that any negative feedback could result in a crisis of confidence. I think a lesson is a piece of work, like an essay draft, we often teach the same lesson again and again, course after course: it is in a constant process of refinement and development. When the lesson is observed, it is under construction, so there will be parts that are working well and parts that could work better. Observation feedback needs to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson not the teacher.

Debate about what is good or bad teaching is very subjective, you can avoid this by looking at strengths and weaknesses against a set of criteria. This is why it is important to use something like the BALEAP Competency Framework for Teachers of Academic English to give feedback with e.g. No.7. Student autonomy – has the lesson demonstrated that the teacher has integrated tasks which develop learner autonomy? To what extent did it work? How could it have worked better?

Lesson observations are a great opportunity for learning what growth mindset means in practice. When teachers can separate their sense of self from their teaching, they can reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson more objectively. If we apply Growth Mindset to the process of developing teachers, it is more likely that ‘sticky’ Growth Mindset behaviours will be passed on to our students, also as a bonus, observations will be much less stressful and more productive for everyone.

Gabriella Lawson

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Is it true that growth mindset ‘doesn’t actually work’?

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Growth mindset has become something of a buzzword over the last few years. While you would have to have been living under a rock not to have heard the term, you may well not be entirely sure what it means (and you wouldn’t be the only one, as we shall see).

What exactly is growth mindset?

It all started to hit the public consciousness with a piece of research done in 1998 by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller, who divided a group of 10-12 year olds into two groups. Both groups were told that they had done well on a test, but the first group were praised for their intelligence, while the second group were praised for the effort they had put in. Dweck and Mueller subsequently found that the first group didn’t want to take any risks that might make them look less intelligent, while the second group kept trying hard and therefore actually did better. The second group had more of a growth mindset.

If you decide that you are naturally bad at something, you may feel this is fixed, and therefore not even try, whereas in most cases you could improve through effort. Equally, if you are told you are naturally bright, you may shy away from trying anything difficult in case you show yourself up by failing. Therefore it is important to praise students for effort rather than for intelligence.

For a more in depth explanation, take a look at this video of Carol Dweck. 

I think most teachers would recognise the truth in this, and the idea has been pretty enthusiastically received. However, more recently there have been a number of articles and research studies stating that growth mindset ‘doesn’t actually work.’

Why might people think it doesn’t work?

First of all, the key ideas are not always very well understood. Sometimes teachers have interpreted it as ‘ if you believe you can do it, you can’- which is self-evidently nonsense. Or ‘everyone can do everything brilliantly if they just try hard enough’- also rubbish. Everyone can get better at something through practice, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily ever be great at it. Growth mindset isn’t about wishful thinking.

Secondly, telling students about growth mindset or that they should have a growth mindset, is not the same as actually changing their mindset. Read this great article about that (thanks Gaby Lawson for sharing it with me). People can definitely change, but not because someone else tells them to. Beliefs about ourselves are usually very deeply engrained, even in children, and they don’t change overnight or because other people want them to. We also have to take into account the messages our students are likely to be getting at home, such as the parent who says, ‘Oh, you get being bad at maths from me.’

And a recent survey of teachers in the USA found that while 98% of teachers felt that growth mindset was a good thing, only 50% knew any strategies aimed at encouraging it. So, clearly we need to think more about how to help students (and teachers) develop it, rather than just exhorting them to put in more effort or think positive.

For the next blog post on ELT Resourceful I have invited Gaby Lawson, Teacher Developer at Monash College, to talk about her work on applying Carol Dweck’s research to teacher development.

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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

Read the rest of the article here

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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.

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

If you’re interested in mindfulness, check out my new site www.life-resourceful.com

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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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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> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

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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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Tips and techniques for correcting spoken errors

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This is the third (very belated) part in a series on oral correction. In the first part, I wrote about the importance of correction, and in the second about when to correct, so in this post I’d like to concentrate on the actual process of how to correct.

Let’s start by looking at immediate correction, while the student is speaking. The pros and cons of doing this are discussed here, but assuming that you have made the decision to correct immediately (and not just reformulate), how can you best go about it?

Most teachers would agree that it is usually best to try and elicit a correction from the student. The argument is that this will involve them in deeper mental processing than if the teacher simply provides the correct language.  Some might argue that this is too difficult for the students, but I’d say that if they can’t attempt a correction even with help, then there probably isn’t much point in making the correction as it is likely to be something beyond their current level  of competence.

But no-one can correct themselves if they don’t know what the problem is. Take this (fictional) example:

Student: I want to heat it.

Teacher: No..

Student: Sorry, I want to heating it.

Teacher: No..

Student: Er, I want heat it?

Teacher: No, you want to EAT it!

So, the first thing to consider is how you are going to help the student realise where the problem  lies.

In the case above, the teacher could do a number of things:

  • Indicate where the problem is by simply saying ‘pronunciation?’
  • Ask a question to show the possible confusion- You want to make it hot?
  • Repeat the sentence, stressing ‘heat’ in a questioning way.

Depending on the error, we can use a number of prompts to help the student self correct. Using a keyword, such as ‘pronunciation’, ‘tense’, ‘article’ and so on can be useful if the student knows the metalanguage. However, gestures can also work very well for giving the student a ‘nudge’.

Here are some useful possibilities:

Third person –s  – Write an ‘S’ on the palm of your hand, so that when you open up your fingers the students can read it. In this way you can just ‘flash’ the –s whenever anyone forgets. (Be aware that in some cultures it is rude to show your palm however)

Word order– gesture with your hands swapping right over left to show that the order is different.

Missing –ly  on an adverb. (E.g. a student says ‘I walk slow’) – Make an L shape with your hand (British and American teenagers sometimes use this to mean ‘Loser’ though, so use with some caution)

Tenses– pointing backwards for past, forwards for future and down for present (though a friend of mine thought that the teacher was teaching the word for table when she pointed downwards!)

Missing word- Spell out the sentence on your fingers (from right to left so that it runs the correct way for the students) and hold the finger representing the missing word, asking what word is missing.

Wrong word- Similar to missing word. Spell out the sentence or phrase, with one word for each finger and stop at the wrong word and ask them to correct it.

Contractions or linking – Again spell out the words on your fingers, then hold two (or three) together and ask students to say it again, putting them together. For example, ‘I would not have done it’ – you could hold would, not and have together to elicit ‘wouldn’t’

Contractions or short vowels sounds– You can pinch together your thumb and index finger to show either a contraction ‘I would’ – ‘I’d’ or to elicit a shorter vowel sound ‘sheep’ to ship’

If the student just can’t self-correct, and assuming you’re not asking the impossible, you then have a choice about whether to try and encourage a peer correction. I think it’s important for students not to jump in and correct each other too quickly, but it is useful if you can build a class culture where it is acceptable for students to correct each other. As Caleb Gattegno said, ‘A mistake is a gift to the class’.  Knowing that they might be called upon, will keep students listening while you are working with an individual student to correct an error, and it’s likely that other students in the class will have similar difficulties, especially in a multi-lingual class. I would use this kind peer correction quite sparing though myself as the original student might start to feel too exposed.  It’s a judgement the teacher needs to make, depending on the student, the error, the stage of the lesson, how long the first attempts to elicit correction have taken and so on. It might be better just to give the correction and move on.

However, in post-speaking correction, peer correction can be really useful. The classic way of doing this is to note down errors (and sometimes good examples) while the students are speaking, and then write them on the board without saying who said them. Students can then work together to correct them.

Variations include turning the activity into a grammar auction, where groups of students bid for sentences they believe are correct, or asking students to decide which sentences are correct or not before correcting as a class.

Students can also take on the ‘teacher’ role if you allocate an observer to each group doing a speaking activity. The observer should note down any errors (or examples of good language) that they hear. The group can then work on the language together as a follow up to the speaking activity.

Perhaps the key thing with all of these techniques is to remember and to help students remember that mistakes are indeed a gift. They are how the teacher can evaluate what needs teaching or reviewing, and they are often the moment when a student finally ‘gets’ something that they have never quite understood.

 

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