Growing, growing… grown


I’ve just read this article emphasising the importance of growth (and the feeling of progress) for a teacher. Terry Heick is trying to explain how the teacher’s work is a journey and what can help us measure how far we’ve progressed on it, or whether we are “trending upwards”. The problem with our job, however, is that the metrics are very vague and we do not see direct outcomes of our work and don’t get to close the feedback loop. Solutions? Look for ‘other data’ – the smile of a student, a good question asked. Find little ‘data points’ that can truly show progress to you. Or look at the big picture and make sure you’re growing, in spite of those little ups and downs. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Whatever happened to direct instruction?


Here is an interesting polemical article by Richard Ullman which asks the same question about school education and all the fashionable learner-centred approaches. He says: “many of these strategies tend to put the critical-thinking-and-creativity cart before the fundamental content-and-skill-acquisition horse” and then goes on to give an example of someone learning how to play a musical instrument: you can’t show your creativity before you have developed the basic skill of playing. I’d take it with a grain of salt, but if you feel that sometimes the pendulum swings too far and learners do not get enough knowledge and guidance, this might be the explanation.

When emoji are out of bounds


If you have ever deleted a few smileys from a semi-formal email and then added them, and then had second thoughts again, you are not alone: apparently, the email register has not been codified yet, and no one is sure what the correct way to write is. This post from Ask a Manager offers some useful tips: how to sound warm in an email if you don’t want to use smileys.  Exclamation points are an obvious favourite, but there are other useful methods that learners of English will appreciate – a very nice and practical post.

Use quotes you must


Here’s a great collection of quotes from Mensa for Kids which ticks quite a lot of boxes: the development of critical thinking, reading, speaking and language practice, working at stations, source of inspiration (and a great timesaver for teachers). It is in fact a lesson plan based on 65 quotes with discussion questions, followed by a slew of alternative ideas about how to use quotes, e.g. origami, bracket challenge and of course yoda-cizing.  Don’t forget to check the extra links at the end – absolute gold.

Ride the recency effect


Why do we try to end lessons on a high? Because of the recency effect: we hope that students will remember that cool and punchy activity and then somehow retain the rest of the lesson. This article from Edutopia offers an excellent collection of activities to do at the end of a lesson and create (surprise) a stronger sense of progress. My favourite by far are snowstorm and the elevator pitch (though I probably use exit tickets and ‘so what’ the most). And yours?

There is help and help


My evening reading includes blogs about management, which are quite enjoyable but don’t often end up on these pages (I’m always worried that there’s too much management theory here!). However, this post by Dan Rockwell, one of my favourite authors, just has to be shared: it’s about helping people effectively, and it can be applied not only to workplace situations, but to the classroom and to life in general.

Dan speaks about ‘lousy helpers’ – people who cannot step back and let people develop, or want to keep control, or want to feel needed; and ‘humble helpers’ – people who first find out what help is actually asked for, and allow the other person to come up with their own solutions before offering their own. Sounds simple? Sure. Do we always help our learners (or other people) the way they need to be helped? Hmm…

Graphic organisers on steroids

Here’s an unusual take on students’ notebooks: why not have movable parts and little pockets there? Probably only applicable to Secondaries, but it all depends on how you sell the idea to the students. I still haven’t decided if they are better than graphic organisers, apart from the obvious entertainment value. I like the kinaesthetic element about them, but I’m not sure how much language they would produce. Still, such a great idea… What do you think?

Music for the masses


I don’t think I’ve often mentioned music on the blog, even though it’s something I use in the classroom (and in the office!) a lot.It can set the mood, develop listening subskills, or simply filter off background sounds – this article by Andrew Starck will give you more examples, as well as quote from several more and less scientific sources (all very interesting to read). What I particularly like about this article is how Andrew ties all this together with his own experience as a teacher and teacher trainer, in a charmingly open and authentic voice. He also promises to use music in his teaching more often this year – and you?

Ask me another


If you need to encourage your staff or colleagues to ask each other for advice, go no further: this article has all the arguments you need, complete with evidence. As it turns out, it’s the more proficient teachers who ask more questions to their colleagues; and the less proficient ones may still be at the level of unconscious incompetence. “It seems that the better the teacher performed, the more likely they were to go out and obtain feedback on how to be even better.”

Well, now I won’t hesitate to ask how exactly those fancy story cubes work!

Cutting down on prep time


How much time do you need to prepare for lessons? I have found that with experience it takes me less and less (still not true of my teacher training exploits though!). Here is a very useful article from a college professor James M.Lang which doesn’t only speak about the necessity to reduce planning time, but also suggests several low-prep activities that can be adapted to an ELT classroom. My favourite at the moment is ‘the connection question’, but there are others to try: annotation worksheets, writing warm-ups and polling.

Love those little efficiency tweaks, and you?