When Stevick writes about communicative and linguistic competence as the learner’s goal, there are no surprises: we all know that the students need to know what to say and how to say it. However, there is also a third competence, which he calls ‘personal’ and lists several levels to it:
1) mastering techniques like using flash cards or making vocabulary notes (just another name for ‘learning how to learn’ skills, isn’t it?);
2) knowing which techniques work specifically for you (learner self-reflection?);
3) understanding the process of mastering a new technique (this is a bit vague for me, but it’s close to reflection and metacognitive processes);
4) knowing how to deal with emotions as they arise in the process of education (EQ?).
So, how does the teacher go about developing all these competencies? Give the students enough different options for (1); allow them to experiment for (2); comment on their progress, but don’t “talk it to death” for (3) and modify their teaching to deal with negative emotions, but remember that “you are dealing with a group of other humans who may be quite unlike each other” to help with (4).
Funny how people used to speak about the same things in ELT even 40 years ago!
I’ve always wanted to find an excuse to write more about Earl Stevick! Now that I mentioned humanistic approaches in two previous posts, it seems there’ll never be a better chance 🙂
So, here we go: Teaching and Learning Languages by Earl W.Stevick, my favourite ELT writer of all times. First published in 1982, but still very relevant – at least that’s what I think. By his own admission, Stevick wrote this tiny book as something practical, but not a ‘how-to-do-it’ book. He was focusing on the principles of teaching, on thinking about ‘how-it-works’, beginning from the first words the teacher says when they enter the classroom.
And here’s my favourite quote for today: “When you called the people there in front of you ‘class’, you accepted for yourself the role known as ‘teacher’, and along with it an obligation to help your students to move toward the goals that they brought with them.”
Quite a lot to unpack here: the advice to find out about the learners’ needs as soon as possible, the understanding that calling yourself a teacher means taking on a huge responsibility… Does this quote speak to you as well?
Another of my favourite authors is David Geurin (you may have read the posts Passion or proficiency? or Teachers as warm demanders): his texts are sometimes controversial, but always encourage reflection. And this post, “What would happen you weren’t successful?”, seems a great find for the coming New Year and the plans we’re setting ourselves. There’s too little time and no enough resources to do everything, so how do you choose your priorities? David suggests thinking about the consequences of not doing what you have in mind. If nothing really horrible happens – well, then perhaps it’s not the biggest priority, and vice versa.
You must have heard of Communities of Practice before: it’s people doing something similar (not necessarily together), sharing knowledge and supporting each other. This literature overview by Catlin Tucker dots a few ‘i’s’ for me and yet brings up even more questions: a community of practice has to be something recognised by all its members, and there have to be some results, a repository of resources developed over time. So, when teachers form a community in the teachers’ room and share resources, is this a community of practice yet? Or should we provide a more formal structure for that, a way of communication, and some place to store and organise professional knowledge? (And when does an informal community of practice become too top-down for its members to enjoy?)
So, if you’re reading this, do you consider yourself part of a community of practice? How is it different for you from a group of people sharing a common interest?
To support a recent post about reflection followed by action, which was teacher-oriented, here is an interesting take on the same topic, but in a business environment. It’s by my favourite Dan Rockwell aka Leadershipfreak: a self-reflection ‘sandwich’ where reflection is just a thin layer of peanut butter between two hefty slices of action. He ends the post with a list of useful journal questions to reflect on the actions of the day, such as ‘What did I plan to do?’, ‘What actually happened?’, and ‘What do I really want?’. I’m almost tempted to cook a series of my own action-reflection-action sandwiches on this blog!
And here is something positive to get the new working week started. George Couros is thinking about the power of assumptions in education. When we assume that ‘Students don’t want to learn’ or ‘Teachers don’t want to change’, perhaps it would be better to say: ‘Students need us to acknowledge their current strengths and start from there?’ Or ‘Teachers would like to help their students, but they need a better understanding of how change can help them do it”?
Isn’t it true of many other things at work and in life in general?
There are countless articles and blog posts online about all the great opportunities for continuous professional development for Internet-savvy teachers. Lana’s post about ‘no size fits all’ CPD begins with a similar idea – yet there is a very important difference: she stresses the downsides or ‘pitfalls’ of each development path, e.g. online courses should be used selectively, reading won’t help if you don’t get rid of your hidden biases…
Very useful, especially when you start to panic that there is too much learning out there and no time to do it all!