A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic video. Research shows that feeling grateful for what we have and the people in our lives is a key factor in feeling happy. The video shows a group of people carrying out a task designed to increase their happiness in this way. It’s quite moving.
Suitable from Intermediate/B1+, the lesson starts with a short text to introduce the topic and get the students thinking about how people recognise and celebrate gratitude in their cultures. It then moves onto the video, where students watch two people visiting a friend and reading aloud a letter they have written , thanking them for what they have done. There is some focus on vocabulary, and some useful phrases that students could use themselves to say thank you. Finally, the students are asked to write their own thank you letter, which they may or may not choose to actually deliver.
In my previous post I gave a brief overview of what I think mindfulness is, and how it can be beneficial for teachers. As I think it can be beneficial for everyone, obviously, there are applications for students as well.
While I do believe that our remit as teachers can be wider than simply teaching language, I don’t think it is the teacher’s role to therapise the students, nor are most teachers in any way trained or prepared for this. That said, most teachers don’t have a problem with encouraging students to develop self-evaluation skills, and mindfulness can be seen as simply an extension of this.
Perhaps the central focus of mindfulness is the focus on the present moment. This doesn’t mean that you somehow aren’t allowed to think about what’s just happened or about to happen, but that you shouldn’t be so caught up in the past or future that you aren’t really ‘here’. So an activity where you describe a memory is absolutely fine; thinking about what you’re going to have for tea tonight while your partner talks to you about their memory, not so much.
Clearly, it is in the interests of learning for students to be fully present in the classroom, so how could this be facilitated?
Start the class right
In my last post, I mentioned the importance of starting the day right. The same principles can be applied to a class. It’s really important to start the class with everyone fully focused. Some ideas for facilitating this, from Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness
– For young learners, start with a song or jazz chant or clapping game.
– Take out something really interesting to look at and gradually pull in everyone’s attention
– Read something really interesting aloud
– Start with a riddle or puzzle
– If learners are engaged in discussing something as they come into class, start there.
[And there was another idea involving using a Tibetan bell….but I promised EBEFL that I wouldn’t mention anything like that ;)]
In this excellent post, Kevin Stein writes about keeping a real time journal- a reflective tool where he jots down notes about what is actually happening in the class as it happens. This helps him to make decisions about what to do next- in essence it’s a tool for focusing on the present.
The same kind of activity can work very well for students, and is a good short activity for early finishers. Rather than drifting off, ask them to write a few sentences about what they notice happening in the classroom and/or about what they are feeling. This might give you an insight into the class or the student from a different angle- unless the student wants to keep what they have written private.
Or you could occasionally carry out more extended noticing tasks. For example, the dogme activity, the Sounds of Silence, from Teaching Unplugged, where the class simply listens in silence for one minute to whatever is happening around them (open the windows or door) and then discusses what they heard.
A classic mindfulness activity (originating, I think, with Jon Kabat-Zinn) is to eat a raisin, with complete attention. For example:
Pick up a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand. Look at it. Examine it. Describe the raisin. What does it look like? What color is it? How would you describe the texture? Now, feel the raisin in the palm of your hand. What does it feel like against your skin? Pick it up with your other hand. What does it feel like in your fingers? Is it slimy? Rough? Smooth? Soft? Hard? Squeeze it softly. What do you feel? Smell the raisin. Describe how it smells. Put the raisin in your mouth, but do not eat it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What does the texture feel like now? How does it taste? How does the taste compare to the way it smelled? Move it around in your mouth and notice every aspect of the raisin. Bite the raisin and think about what you taste. Now how does the raisin feel in your mouth? Finish chewing and eat the raisin. How did it taste? Describe the experience of the raisin.
This can work really well in class-students listen, carry out the activity and then write about the experience. Of course, you could do it with any activity- not just eating a raisin!
Any approach, such as Dogme, where the emphasis is on real-time communication between the people in the class, will naturally promote being in the present (even if you’re talking about past experiences). If students are fully involved and engaged, they are present.
In this way, most teachers will, of course, already be promoting mindfulness with their students, and will be in a mindful state themselves whenever they are completely engaged and ‘in the flow’.
However, even in this kind of dialogue, we are not always in the present. Tim Lott puts this very well in a recent Guardian article:
In our western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it, and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment.
We talk about ‘teachable moments’, and it is my experience that the more fully engaged people are, the more teachable moments appear. So, conversation with students can, I believe, be taken deeper, and made more memorable, by asking questions which bring students back to now.
How do you know that is true?
Can you think of any situations in which that might not be true?
Is there another way to see that?
This doesn’t mean that you are saying that what they believe isn’t true, by the way, just that you are getting them to think about it again, from a fresh viewpoint.
A central part of awareness is being aware of emotions and feelings. Fiona Mauchline recently wrote a wonderful blog post about getting in touch with emotions as a way of making language more memorable.
Similarly, you could have a lesson about what things make people feel angry (bearing in mind the questions under dialogic teaching above).
In mindfulness, however, there is an important distinction between being aware of emotions, and believing that the emotion IS you. Mindfulness works on recognising the emotion, accepting that you’re experiencing it (rather than suppressing it), but seeing it as a passing event, like feeling hot or cold. They’re just sensations in the moment, and will pass.
The element of surprise
You can’t learn if you’re not awake , said Kevn Stein in another blog post you should check out. He was talking about introducing elements of surprise or challenge to wake students up. Mindfulness, far from being a passive kind of drifting off, is all about being awake, really awake.
So, ultimately, anything which (gently) pulls students (and teacher) awake and in touch with what is actually happening right now, is mindfulness. With this in mind, I’d argue that it’s easy to see how mindfulness applies to the classroom, as much as any other part of life.
Mindfulness is a term that is becoming increasingly familiar to many people, but it is still not that clear to many, I think, what exactly it means. Mindfulness isn’t about drifting off into your inner world; it’s more about being fully conscious, really aware of what we’re doing and feeling, right now.
Most of us spend most of our time only dimly aware of what’s happening for us right now. We are usually too busy making future plans, worrying about stuff, remembering things and reacting to situations based on what we think we’ve learnt in the past. Our mind is crowded out with all sorts of stuff.
However, mindfulness isn’t about having an empty mind; it’s about being focused.
Why mindfulness for teachers?
For many people, myself included, one of the great attractions of teaching is that it can be so absorbing that I often find myself in a state of what Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’. When we are totally present in the classroom (or anywhere else), time goes very quickly and we are really in a state of heightened awareness, feeling alert and alive. Communication flows easily between us and others and everyone seems to be really focused on the experience of learning. This is a very enjoyable form of mindfulness, and it can be encouraged by developing our own mindfulness practice outside the classroom.
Mindfulness , flow, feeling connected is not so much something that we have to acquire, as something which is always there, but that we tend to be very good at blocking out through anxiety, fear, anger, mind-chatter, judgements and so on.
The more we practice mindfulness, the easier it is to connect to that peaceful place when we’re under pressure, students are playing up, the lesson plan isn’t working and so on.
Mindfulness helps us to be able to respond to a difficult situation calmly, rather than a knee-jerk reaction of feeling angry with ourselves or the students, or feeling that we’re not good enough or whatever our particular ‘favourite’ reaction might be.
Rather than feeling exhausted and drained at the end of a class, we’ll feel energised and alive (and so will the students).
Techniques to develop mindfulness
A key personal discovery is how important it is to start the day right. That doesn’t mean you can’t get things back on track, but it seems to really help to start by getting into the right frame of mind. How you do this is a matter of individual choice, of course: meditation, a brisk walk taking full notice of nature around you or simply setting your intention for the day- reminding yourself to stay in touch with what’s actually happening, take proper breaks, eat well, or to be kinder to yourself etc.
Whenever you remember (and don’t beat yourself up for forgetting, because you will most of the time), check in with what’s actually happening, and how you are feeling. When those feelings are negative, don’t deny or suppress them- just notice them and accept them (rather than telling yourself you shouldn’t feel that way), and most of the time they’ll just fade away. When they don’t, you can put them to one side until later and then try a bit of pillow bashing, talking stuff through, writing it all down and so on. But remember that your thoughts aren’t necessarily true- they’re just thoughts. This may help you not to get too caught up in the drama of it all.
Every so often (decide when in advance), take a few minutes to just breathe and become aware. I like to go for a short walk outside.
There are several excellent books on developing mindfulness which I would recommend for developing your own practice:
Any of these books will guide you through exercises designed to help build your inner resilience, dissipate stress, help you to be in the ‘flow’, help you deal with difficult situations and students and generally greatly improve your quality of life.
In my next post, I’d like to look at how you can encourage mindfulness from your students- in ways that won’t feel too different from what you already do, but that may make a difference to the quality of learning.
In the 70s there was a positive rash of so-called designer methods for learning language. The first part of our #ELTChat on 12th September 2012 at 12pm was mainly concerned with clarifying exactly what some of these methods involved. For the sake of clarity I have prepared a brief overview of what I understand about each method. There then follows a summary of the discussion and finally a set of links to articles and videos about these different methods.
Theory of learning
Theory of language
The Silent Way
Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or problem solves. Students work co-operatively and independently from teacher.
Very structural- language is taught in ‘building blocks’..but syllabus is determined by what learners need to communicate.
Teacher should be as silent as possible, modelling items just once. Language is learnt inductively
Total Physical Response (TPR)
Learners will learn better if stress to produce language is reduced.Learners, like children, learn from responding to verbal stimulus.
Also structural. Mainly uses imperative ‘’everyday conversations are highly abstract and disconnected; therefore to understand them requires a rather advanced internalisation of the target language.’ Asher Not clear how TPR used at advanced levels.
Teachers role not so much to teach as provide opportunities for learning.But very teacher directed- even when learners interact with each other, usually the teacher who directs.
Community language Learning
Not behavioural but holistic. Teacher and learners involved in ‘an interaction in which both experience a sense of their wholeness.’ Curran
Language is communication. Not structural, but based on learning how to communicate what you want to say.
Learners learn through interaction with each other and the teacher. They attempt communication and the teacher helps them to say what they want to say (using translation as necessary)
People remember best and are most influenced by material coming from an authoritative source. Anxiety should be lowered through comfortable chairs, baroque music etc
Language is gradually acquired. No correction.
The teacher starts by introducing the grammar and lexis ‘in a playful manner’, then reads the text while the students follow or just relax and listen. Students then use the language in fun and/or undirected ways.
Comments on the Silent Way
@Mo_Americanoid kicked off the discussion by suggesting that ‘those trends helped deviate the focus from the teacher to the Ss. Silent can be handy in some specific situations..especially in multi-lingual classes where students will take control of their learning at their own pace.’ @teflerinha agreed, saying silent way probably most influential of these in my teaching because of emphasis on getting ls to do stuff.’ @jankenb said ‘Silent way is ideal for Ss who are reluctant to speak in class. It allows for interactivity in group setting.’ @rliberni said I still use some silent way type things when drilling or s’times presenting new language.’
@worldteacher had worked at a school based on Silent Way, but found it ‘no good for me, I’m afraid!’ She had also tried learning Japanese that way, but never felt confident about the pronunciation.
@Shaunwilden hadn’t ‘done’ Silent way, but was a big fan of using Cuisenaire rods- and so was @rliberni (and me, @teflerinha).
@ELTExperience made the point that children learn by imitating parents and that they wouldn’t learn to speak if parents were silent. @teflerinha commented that the Silent Way involved ‘having to work stuff out- so kind of discovery approach (but can b 2 unguided 4 me)’ and @ELTExperience responded ‘I suppose a balance can be struck between SW and more guided forms of teaching tho.’
@cerirhiannon said ‘only use silent way in short bursts – find the driling too controlled and t-centred.’
@Mo_Americanoid commented ‘I know a teacher from Portugal who learned French and Italian through the Silent Way back in the 70s. She swears by it.’
Comments on Suggestopaedia
@MrChrisJWilson asked if Suggestopaedia was ‘about using the whole environment to promote language learning and reinforce the language?’ and @LizziePinard reminded us that it was the one that uses music- at a certain number of beats per minute according to @Marisa_C. @teflerinha thought it was something to do with matching branwaves, and @LizziePinard said ‘ties in tradition to yoga and soviet psychology.’ @shaunwilden said ‘reminds me of some AR i did many years ago-1 class with Baroque one without – proved nothing :-).’
@PatrickAndrews said ‘People keen on suggestopedia say it is very complex but seems to be about using the subconscious’. @LizziePinard pointed out that ‘the teacher is seen as an authority figure, on the theory that learners learn better from authority.’
@Raquel and @teflerinha had a short interchange about aspects we both liked, like room decoration, playful manner, using music..but also agreed that some students hate background music- perhaps because very auditory.
@Marisa_C pointed out ‘original quite focused on translation and structural grading but permutations allow for lots of creativity.’
Comments on TPR
There was a general feeling that this worked better for kids . For example, @rliberni said ‘remember them learning vocab while on a trampoline w/words in front of them!’, but people had also used the method, or elements of it, with adults. However @jankenb disagreed- saying good for all classes 0-99, except when you have 130 students!
Comments on CLL
@Cerirhiannon said ‘elements of CLL can work really well with truly mixed level (note level not ability) classes in a monolingual setting’
@AlexandraKouk also mentioned grammar translation and contrastive analysis and she and @teflerinha agreed that this could be valuable for ‘noticing, analysing, drawing conclusions and implementing.’
What can we take from these methods?
@raquel_EFL said ‘when I started reading for DELTA, I realized I had used some features of these approaches/methods in my lessons.’ A lot of people agreed that they were using elements, either consciously, or because they had picked up the ideas without knowing where they had originated.
@ChrisJWilson asked about how principles could fit with methods, and @teflerinha gave the example of believing students have to notice language to learn it- which fits with Silent Way.
@esolcourses said ‘I use ideas from all of them in my teaching, although not sure how well they’d work as a ‘stand-alone’ method.’
Some specific examples: @Marisa_C -finger correction @teflerinha -and the use of gestures, taken from Silent Way, @hartle – story telling where teacher is silent indicating yes or no whilst stds ask questions. @eltexperiences – any form of slient eliciting
@hartle said ‘decorative flashcards also come from Suggestopedia and matching card games etc..’
@cerirhainnon suggested ‘ss have to programme me (robot) to walk, but with limited verbs and preps, and lots of obtuseness from me.’, based on Silent Way/TPR. And also : ss guide blindfolded peers through maze of chairs, if they touch the chairs, go back to beginning
@hartle made the point that a lot is tied in with st expectations and context. At uni some activities like this OK but stds must perceive it as “serious”!!
There was also a lot of discussion about the idea of ‘cherrypicking’ from the different methods, and many people made the important point that cherrypicking is all very well, but that there should be some principles behind it. There was some debate about whether the original principles of the methods should be watered down in this way, but most people seemed to agree that so long as you knew why you were doing something, it was fine to pick and choose. For example, @jankenB said ‘Not random- always well planned and understood, & flexible to teachable moments.’ And @Raquel_ELT said @Raquel_EFL: Planning is crucial.Being aware of these methods/approaches’ features, we have a bigger repertoire of solutions 2 improve.’
It was also agreed that context was important, and that different approaches would suit different students (at different times) @elleplus1 ‘You assimilate the principles then you can adapt them to different contexts.’
I recently read an interesting post, entitled The lack of person-centredness in ELTon Jonathan’s English Blog, at ukteachersonline. It caught my attention because, as an ELT teacher and trainer, I like to think that I work in a person-centred way.
In Freedom to Learn, Rogers lists five hypotheses (paraphrased):
1 No-one can teach anyone anything; they can only facilitate learning. Everyone will process what they learn in their own way and in their own time.
2 A person only learns what is personally meaningful to them.
3 People naturally resist change, but being open to consider new and different concepts is vital to learning.
4 If people feel threatened, they become less receptive and more rigid.
5 The educational situation in which people learn best is where threat is reduced to a minimum and the ability to look at things in different ways is maximised.
It seemed to me that there were two main points in the post I mention. Firstly, that teacher training does not give nearly enough attention to the psychological aspects of learning. Secondly, that ELT teaching fails because it is usually carried out in groups.
In relation to the first point, Jonathan says, that in most teacher training courses, there is ‘nothing whatsoever from educational psychology or adult pedagogy and not a whiff of a mention of inter-personal skills, group dynamics and so on. How can this be? These are human beings in the classroom and yet nobody seems to think it’s worth training teachers to think for a second about how people interact together in classrooms and how this might relate to learning.’
I couldn’t agree more. Jonathan also says that ‘A different pedagogy could be developed in the classroom which recognises the social nature of language and constructivist learning principles but which is also based on a person-centred concept of language teaching.’ Obviously on a four week CELTA, for example, there is a limited amount of time to go into depth on these areas. However, it should be something which runs through every element of the course, like a stick of rock.
However, when it comes to the second point, I can’t agree. Jonathan says, ‘The fact that teachers work with groups is part of the problem. The individual needs of each person simply cannot be met in a classroom environment. So teachers have to pitch things at the lowest common denominator in the classroom who is the student who more or less understands what’s going on. A great deal of what happens in classrooms is an exercise in training yourself to put your own needs last and the needs of the group and its consensus first. You don’t understand something? Tough – the teacher doesn’t have time for that.’
This may be true of some (even many) classrooms, but I don’t think that it is an essential drawback of teaching in a group. In fact, I think that working in groups can be much more powerful a learning process than working 1-2-1.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there are strong parallels between the processes of therapy and classroom or educational processes (which is why, I guess, Carl Rogers was so interested in learning). Both are about growth. Look at this quote I found through a quick google about group therapy:
Group therapy is a powerful venue for growth and change. Not only do students receive tremendous understanding, support, and encouragement from others facing similar issues, but they also gain different perspectives, ideas, and viewpoints on those issues. Most students, though somewhat apprehensive at first, report that the group experience was helpful far beyond their expectations.
I would argue that pretty much the same thing is true of the group experience in teaching and learning English. Rogers talks about minimising threat and maximising opportunities to see different perspectives: what better way to do that than in a supportive group? And, it is a group experience, not about the teacher on one side and the learners on the other. The teacher doesn’t need to spread themselves thinly between 20 (or more) students, because they are not the only person in that room who can facilitate learning. What about the other students? What about the student him or herself?
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