Owning your teaching mistakes


Owning your mistakes – this is becoming an impromptu series! Here is a very interesting reflection by Sam Pullan which has surfaced on Twitter today (sorry for skipping the ‘via’ reference, I usually go to the original posts straight away – as I expect everyone to do when you read something on my blog :)). Anyway, he remembers how many years he didn’t call out a student who said something really wrong, why he did it and what consequences it had for his teaching.

Makes me think about how many instances like this we don’t even notice when we teach… The teachable moments that are lost forever, the indifference we sometimes demonstrate even if  we actually care, and care very much.


How to apologise for teaching


What a great post by Larry Ferlazzo! I’m pretty sure most of us make similar errors of judgement in the classroom when we focus on ‘covering the book’, ‘meeting the deadline’, ‘doing the Present Perfect’ instead of teaching our students. But how often do we have the courage and humility to admit the error even to ourselves? Larry describes how he prepared a solid sequence on storytelling and what exactly in his view went wrong. And what particularly awed me – he found a way to apologise to the students and to set things straight.

I’ve read it somewhere that when a service provider deals with a complaint well, it can satisfy and even delight the customer, much more than in a neutral situation. It’s similar, isn’t it? I’m sure Larry’s students were absolutely delighted.

Do learners ‘copy mistakes’ from each other?


Have your students sometimes refused to work with a weaker-level partner?

I’ve recently read this interesting post by Betty Azar responding to a teacher’s worry that students will acquire wrong models if you put mistakes on the board during a delayed error correction stage. She explains why fossilisation is not going to happen: error correction sessions develop the learners’ abilities to self-monitor, reinforce target language and generally help them become more aware of grammar cognitively.  Good arguments that can be shared with students, I think! (But I’m still going to mark those incorrect examples with an asterisk or a different colour, just in case :)).

The art and craft of giving feedback


Here is a very useful weekend read: an article by Paul A. Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen unpacking different types of feedback and putting to rest the notion that ‘feedback is always great for learning’. For example, when do you think is the ideal time to give feedback? It’s not always the sooner, the better – a higher-level student would benefit from more time for self-reflection. There are more insights like this in the article, and it’s very readable too, with a Dilbert cartoon alongside quotes from Hattie. Not to be missed!

Red pen hate


Do you still use the red pen to mark your students’ writing? Apparently, this type of feedback is seen as more aggressive and less helpful. This article suggests an excellent alternative: making video comments. You can show the students’ work on the screen, or your face, or both – and the feedback will be much more effective (and take you less time than writing out all the corrections). For more examples and a set of guidelines check the website mentioned in the article. I am definitely going to try something along these lines (once I get myself a proper mike!).


Proofreading skills with NY Times


Have you seen this great copy-editing quiz from the New York Times? It can work very well with any advanced students, including EAP and exam prep. I had a lot of fun with it myself, and, to be honest, finding that one error was not always easy! (And of course it should be timed.) It’s Quiz No.12, so there are a dozen of these for all your correction needs.

Just a teeny tiny minute, only 60 seconds in it


Check out this very comprehensive description of a classical little activity called ‘Just a minute!’. It can help you energise your students when you’re not in the mood for slow teaching. I have tried it myself, even with one-to-ones: it helps keep the focus on accuracy or target language, at the same encouraging students to speak quickly and coherently (very useful for exam preparation). You might want to complement it with the famous radio show, but I rarely get students who are proficient enough to enjoy it!

iFake it till you make it


In one of his recent posts on QuickShout, Nik Peachey describes a useful online tool with a very self-explanatory name: iFake Text Message. The app is quite intuitive and doesn’t need much in terms of technical guidelines; however, Nik also suggests multiple  teaching uses for it, from error correction to reimagining conversations between famous people. What about fictional characters, perhaps Sansa Stark texting Jon? I am definitely going to try this in one of my lessons!


Alan November at Teacher Skills Forum in Jordan


Now that I’m back, I have a bit of time to sort through my conference notes. Even a week later, Alan November’s presentation stands out: the speaker’s skills were excellent, his ideas were emphasised with unusual pictures and not a small sense of humour (would you use the picture of a Japanese hi-tech loo to illustrate technological progress?).

Here are a few points that I found important:
1) modern tech gives us access to more information, but information is NOT knowledge
2) as teachers, we should give students more challenging assignments (to make use of all this available information)
3) we should teach them to anticipate failure and have more resilience (not just give them grades, which can demotivate)
4) we should show students how to search the web correctly and use reliable sources, as well as how to evaluate information

So, good teaching is still very much in demand!

He also mentioned the Curse of Knowledge: when professors know so much that they cannot understand students’ difficulties. Using stories, he added, is the best way to teach, and this is how students teach each others and how we should teach them.

If you’d like to learn more, these two articles on Alan November’s website nicely complement his presentation:
Crafting a Vision for Empowered Learning and Teaching: Beyond the $1,000 Pencil

How Making Thinking Visible Helps Teachers and Students

To err or not to err


If you have ten minutes today for an enjoyable longread on educational psychology, here is an article by Claudia Wallis about the science behind error correction. There are a lot of examples from U.S. schools where the learners were able to develop a growth mindset because the teacher encouraged them to see the benefits of errors and explain their right and wrong answers. “The students began to see errors as a path to learning rather than humiliation.” It all sounds very persuasive.

And yet, the behaviourist desire ‘to model correctly’ is deeply ingrained in us, teachers and learners alike. For example, it’s hard to disagree with this post by Gianfranco Conti, who says that correcting errors in students’ writing has little effect on their learning (unless it is supported by a lot of remedial activities) and concludes: “better invest your time in planning and resourcing your teaching more effectively”.

So, are you with behaviourists or with cognitivists?