A lesson: what a good one looks like

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What makes lessons less effective than we would like them to be, whether we observe, teach or take them? It could be the absence of any of the ten important elements listed in this great post by Tom Sherrington. (By the way, he is a master of putting teaching principles into a concise and clear form (have you read ‘The silver arrows of education” or “Ways to focus on your teaching” on my blog?). It’s difficult to disagree with any of the points: explicit knowledge goals, modelling instructions and language, several kinds of practice… All very structured  and could be made into a checklist to tick off before going into the classroom – what do you think?

P.S. The title of the post is based on the new acronym I’ve found in the post: WAGOLL (What A Good One Looks Like). Just another word for a clarification of success criteria, but quite memorable.

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Leaning into negative feedback

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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?

Observed lessons as an experiment

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If you are interested in supporting teachers, you might want to check out this article for a different approach on lesson observations. The managers at one school decided to frame all lesson observations as experiments and use coaching techniques with their teachers before and after the lessons. The article doesn’t describe the method in great detail, but here’s what I’ve taken away.

The teacher formulates a hypothesis, takes it to the classroom, and reflects on the results – sounds almost like action research, but wait. The difference is that the observer takes part in the preparation for the lesson and is also responsible for the result (especially if the lesson doesn’t go very well). A great idea, don’t you think?

The sunny side of the Hawthorne effect

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Another term that emerged in IATEFL discussions, the Hawthorne effect, is given new life in Larry Ferlazzo’s blog. He refers to an article by Joanne Yatvin called ‘Letting teachers re-invent their own wheel’, but I recommend reading Larry’s post first: he explains his success in the classroom by the fact that his students are aware of his research and of being observed as part of his research. I think it’s a great way to look at the observer effect and maybe even exploit it – what do you think?

Passion or proficiency?

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Here is an inspirational post from David Geurin about the importance of focusing on the emotional element of learning. He lists several steps towards creating a ‘passionate learning culture’: be a model of passionate learner, learn to ask interesting questions, help students see how they can make a difference, use emotions and creativity.  Applied to teaching foreign languages, this list reveals some interesting gaps. I have been lucky to observe a lot of lessons which are full of fun and creative energy, and quite a few lessons that help students achieve their learning aims. But what about enjoying language just for the sake of it, being curious about English and its wonderful idiosyncrasies, and sharing this with students? Do we do this often enough?

Secret admirers can help us learn

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A wonderful article from Edutopia about the effect positive peer observation can have on the atmosphere in the classroom. The idea is that students are given a random name of another student and have to secretly observe that student and notice something positive about their actions; at the end of the day, the observations are shared.

“It was like a switch had been flicked in my classroom and the unpleasant interpersonal behavior between students declined considerably. Our community felt good.”

I can see more mundane applications for this idea: adult learners can ‘admire’ each other’s grammar range, or vocabulary notes, or learner autonomy skills. Still, using it for classroom management and reducing psychological friction in a group seems the most promising option – what do you think?

Do you pineapple?

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I just love, love this idea of Pineapple Observation Charts. You don’t have to be a recognised expert on everything, just choose an exciting/experimental activity you would like to  show to a colleague and put the time and day on the weekly chart. If someone else is interested, they can drop in for an informal visit. So, the observer knows what they are going to see; the observee knows why and when they’re being observed; the ‘pineappling’ process is informal, pleasant and cool: mmm.