On and off collaboration


How do you work? When you have a complex problem to solve, do you prefer to work on your own or brainstorm together with several colleagues? Whatever your preference, you might be interested to know that research recommends doing both. Here is the original academic article by Ethan BernsteinJesse Shore, and David Lazer (Harvard Business School), and here is a more lightweight retelling of it from Science Daily.

To give you the gist (I know how many of the readers actually click on the links! ;)), there were three groups in the experiment: one never collaborated, another collaborated all the time, and the other worked together only from time to time. The researchers were not surprised to find that the first group provided the most original solutions with the lowest average quality. The second group collaborated so much that they weeded out all outlying solutions, so the average quality was higher, but they didn’t find the best solutions out there. What was unexpected for them, however, was that the intermittently collaborating group kept the high average quality and the best solutions.

Neat – and can be easily applied to the classroom. I’ll never cut down on individual prep time after reading this!


The efficiency paradox


For a weekend read, here is a polemic article by Larry Cuban in two parts:

The first blog post explains what an efficiency paradox is: for example, electronic records in medicine were supposed to free doctors’ time to spend it with their patients, but in fact have increased their admin time even more.

The second part is more closely related to education and touches upon areas like class size and new technologies. A big class is cost-efficient, but is it effective? An online MOOC helps universities save money, but is it what students need? How do all those changes affect academic achievement?

What about you, do you often feel this tension between efficiency and effectiveness in your work?


Timesavers for the reflective teacher


When was the last time you had to write your lesson reflection? I remember staring at my blank screen for ages: how do I even start?.. After all those formal obs and post-obs, reflection seems a chore, and teacher journals a form of torture – unless you ask yourselves the right questions. Martyn Clarke’s post on the OUP blog can help you do just that.

There are five ready-made activities: about changes in your teaching, your ‘mistakes’ and successes, relationships with colleagues and even your emotions during the working week – and two sets of prompts: one to help you zoom in on the details of your experience and the other to encourage reflective thinking. Any of the tasks can be lifted off the page and carried into a peer professional development group, or a mentoring conversation, or a self-reflection journal. Easy and fun!

I’d probably start with my teaching mistakes, and you?

P.S. And for those who got to the end of this post, here’s a tiny plug for Martyn’s upcoming webinar on classroom research. He is my MA tutor, so I know it’s going to be good 😉

Leaning into negative feedback


Here is another inspirational post about taking negative feedback constructively. (There’s more reading about this on my blog, e.g. about deflective reactions or the feedback loop – perhaps there’s a new series here somewhere? :)) When we are stung by somebody’s criticism, our natural reaction is to become defensive, or try to ignore it. I for one have often done both! Dan Rockwell writes that it takes a lot of courage and humility ‘to lean into the sting’, but offers only rather general advice. I would supplement it with advice from Ashley Szukalski’s article:

  1. Ask follow-up questions
  2. Take part in the feedback process as a collaborator
  3. Don’t be emotional
  4. Find the solution yourself

Could be quite useful for those post-observation meetings on both sides, right?

Learner drawing time


It’s probably safe to assume that most teachers of English draw on the board (for better or worse – definitely the latter in my case). But do we let our students draw and doodle enough? Apparently, drawing has a lot of benefits for learning. The author of this article goes even further to say that drawing makes us better people! At the very least, it can help us think better and achieve deeper understanding.

Thus inspired, I have decided to check if there is any practical advice for encouraging learners to draw. So – for parents of younger students there is a great post from Cambridge with learning tips and activities for skills and language development at home. For adult and teen classes here is an oldie but goldie from David Deubelbeiss which has a handy list of activities from doodle songs to Pictionary; and for the keenest lovers of methodology a whole MA thesis on student sketching in ESL – an exciting and easy read in spite of its genre, and very useful if you need to justify a drawing activity to your students or an observer.

So, out with TDT (teacher drawing time), in with LDT (learner drawing time)?


Book reports: perfectly painless


Have you started a monthly reading challenge with your learners yet? Here is an excellent description of a foldable book report that can be used in an ELT classroom, even though the author, Robert Ward, created it for his English classes in an LA middle school. It’s very hands-on, very creative, easy and fun: the learners will get to think of a new title for the book they’ve read, devise metaphors for the main character, create a licence plate for their car and critique the book. The benefits? Language and skills development, motivation and engagement – and of course revisiting the book is an opportunity for revision and achieving a greater sense of progress.

Would you do something like this in your classroom, or you prefer more digital solutions?


How can teachers be like cats?


Here’s an interesting post by Paul Murphy, a teacher and book author: he suggests that teaching ‘like a pirate’ day in, day out is too exhausting, and that we need to look to our chill feline friends for inspiration. For example, it’s a good idea to stay calm most of the time (true!), with rare moments of fun and high energy; to always ask for what you want in a clear way; to ignore critics and – sleep more: “You can’t be any good if you’re tired all the time.” A very relevant post, especially in view of all the recent discussions of teachers’ mental health!

So, are you more like a cat or like a pirate? Which would you rather be?


And we’re back in business

Hi all, the daily posts are resuming: I’m finally back from a (slightly belated) summer holiday, after a total disconnect from all professional communication.

How did I spend these three weeks? Well, here are some highlights:

I also read two great books on management (stopped myself just in time!) and then a dozen of the silliest fantasy romances I could find.

How have you been, what have I missed?