Conversations about Learning and Teaching

This is the third post where I think aloud about the trainer training course we are planning for the experienced teachers in Ukraine (read the earlier ones here and here). The course will last for four full working days (over two consecutive weekends) and will aim to raise awareness about teacher training/mentoring skills, focusing specifically on delivering a presentation/workshop/interactive session to other teachers.

I have conducted similar courses outside Ukraine (in Asia and Middle East) and am looking forward to trying (adapting) the ideas in my home country. As with any new project I work on, I started a notebook for thoughts and ideas. Just as any other ‘project notebooks’ in my collection, this one has a section called ‘Doubt Page’ where I make a list of fears, doubts, things I am less sure about, questions I can’t answer, etc. I rarely re-read this page, but it helps me separate the drafts of ideas from less constructive thoughts.

One thing I put to my ‘Doubt Page’ is the length of the course versus its goals and objectives. How long does (would) it take to master certain training skills? To gain confidence? Out of those sessions I have planned/brainstormed, which ones will actually help the course participants reach their learning goals?

I then saw this post on iTDI by Bryan Hale with two examples of conversations about teaching and started to reflect on my own experience of learning to be a teacher trainer/educator. Sharing it for the first time!

Many of such conversations happen over coffee 🙂

It was the year of 2005, and I had been working for the language school for about 5-6 years. My colleague (and boss at that time) had already been an internationally qualified TESOL trainer, having delivered courses for teachers in Ukraine and abroad. His schedule was quite tight, and there were lots of requests from various language schools for him to run a training session for their teachers. This got even ‘tighter’ in the summer time when schools have vacation and could afford teachers being on a course full-time for a week or two. He was often ready to say ‘yes’ and then sometimes had to run courses ‘back to back’ taking an intercontinental flight over the weekend…

I offered help and said I could go and deliver the course instead of him. Well, I am known (among friends and colleagues) for saying ‘Yes!’ to a new PD opportunity (read ‘challenge’ here). I was able to ‘sell’ the idea nicely explaining that the training experience will benefit the school, too (I would have had some experience of working with other teachers, gain confidence, etc.)

When I started to look through the course materials kindly shared with me, I realized I need to learn so much in order to deliver a quality program. Besides, they were expecting the professional, and here was me, a new Director of Studies (at that time) with the experience of running about 20 in-house sessions for colleagues, and a dozen of conference presentations. Not a single training session for a group of teachers.

I eagerly read everything I could find on teacher training and development, and made a list of questions for each and every session in the schedule. We then sat down to talk. This conversation consisted of several ‘blocks’ of time after our evening classes ended, and went far into the night for two or three days in a row. I felt as if I was a ‘sponge’ taking in the ideas, comments, tips, asking questions, listening to the course memories, asking more questions, and more… How do you start a course? What do you print out? How do you keep track of everything? What if a participant has this question? What do you do if you […]? and so on.

On reflection, I think this was the best learning experience in my life: it was very personalized, learner-centered, and at the point of my needs. I was offered patience, attention, expertise, and friendly support. Those several days of conversations with an experience colleague ‘weighed’ more in the process of becoming a trainer than the course I ran that summer, and perhaps as much as the subsequent formal training up stages.

Getting back to where I started this post: I hope the training course will (at least partially) resemble such a conversation about learning and teaching, and how the role of trainers/mentors/educators is to help teachers grow (in skills, knowledge, confidence, professional happiness, etc.)

Do you have a ‘Conversation about Teaching’ experience to share?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

Posted in Trainer Reflections | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Co-Presenting!

On May 12 I will be co-presenting at InnovateELT Conference (#iELT18 on Twitter ) with my friend and colleague Tana Ebaugh.

Can you find me in the picture? 🙂

The event’s theme this year is Fun?! Delight and Struggle In ELT.

The title of our session is ‘Let’s Play – Professional Development!’

Our session description says the following:

Professional Development is often thought about with dread by those who have to plan it and those who have to sit through it. We would like to break that assumption by introducing an added a ‘game element’ to a professional development session. The board game we designed can be different every time you play it, contextualizing itself to the players’ work and life experiences, and interests. You will be able to play a part of the game, analyze it and brainstorm its possible uses as a Professional Development tool for you and your colleagues.

Taken by Tana during the game pilot. April 2018, South Korea.

The format we chose is called ‘Drop-in session’. This is a new format for iELT18, and for us. Several ‘drop-ins’ will be running simultaneously, and attendees will be encouraged to move between them, dropping in and out as they explore the different sessions. The main thing is that the session is engaging and works with people dropping in and out over the course of the hour. 

Tana and I have been developing our ideas for the game over the last 14 months or so. I love many things about the process: bouncing thoughts and drafts across the globe, brainstorming shorter and longer (pilot) versions, creating questions for the game, editing rules and instructions (never getting them perfect!), asking questions, etc. My favorite part was… playing our game!

We are excited (and a little nervous) to share what we have come up with so far, so… If you happen to be attending iELT18, we hope to see you in our session! If not, just keep your fingers crossed for us!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

P.S. Here is the Schedule of the event. Please find us in room 19 between 16.55 and 17.35, and don’t forget to drop in to the other eight amazing sessions running at the same time!

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The Why Cards

This is my second post where I think aloud about the trainer training course we are planning for experienced teachers in Ukraine. The first one focused on how ‘reflective process may seem boring‘ for some teachers (and as some chats on Twitter showed, for some trainers too!)

When we started to discuss why this could be the case, one of the reasons that came up was the ‘formal setting’ or the situation when teachers simply ‘have to do it’ as a part of a training course, or school policy. There was an opinion shared that teachers simply need to learn to ‘live through’ such experience and that it is a ‘useful’ one but not necessarily pleasant, or entertaining.

I then remembered the webinar I had attended last month by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, the authors of ‘Reflective practice in ELT’. You can access the recording here.

One of the ideas discussed were Post-Observation Conferences (POCs) and how little reflective space they had for teachers whose lessons were observed. Some solutions were brainstormed how this space could be created. [Note to self: keep thinking about the question of thinking and learning space, in every aspect of the course. This old post is a reminder, too.]

Are you seeing what I am seeing? We started with ‘reflective process’ or ‘practice’ and moved the conversation in the direction of ‘post-lesson feedback’. I actually see a big difference between the two: if reflection is a dialogue, a thinking strategy, a learning tool, feedback is more about ‘receiving’ the information the other person is ‘offering’ you. It is almost a ‘monologue’ versus ‘interaction’. When we talk about reflective practices, we think in terms of developing them, growing the reflective skills, etc. Feedback is more about ‘giving and receiving’ and learning how to feel okay when being criticized (Yes, it is often about receiving negative feedback on one’s performance). Now I wonder if it is the feedback sessions, the POCs (not the reflective process or conversation) that teachers don’t like and have to ‘live through’ to get their certificate/annual review, etc. I wonder if the reflective practice is often something else happening somewhere else (not with the observer who saw the lesson) I wonder if the ‘boring’ part comes from the feeling that the information needs to be ‘received’ and ‘digested’ rather than discussed and internalized.

A big question: can the two be ‘merged’?

Coming back to planning the training course I started with, and the Why card that is in the title. I would like to experiment and see how using the ‘Why’ card during our training sessions could make a difference to the participants. They may find it motivating/engaging to be able to ‘pause’ a session and ask why we are doing a certain activity, or why there is this assignment in the course. There may also be a course journal where the ‘why’ part is developed and shared (to continue the conversation and formulate/verbalize the beliefs we have)

So I was playing with those cards thinking of the exact way to use them. I shared this image on Twitter.

Almost immediately  I got a reply from Svetlana:

Having checked the number of cards in the picture, I clarified what she meant, and found a link to this resource: 5 – Why-s strategy

My favorite idea there was the difference between solutions and counter-measures. Quote:

The 5 Whys uses “counter-measures,” rather than solutions. A counter-measure is an action or set of actions that seeks to prevent the problem arising again, while a solution may just seek to deal with the symptom. As such, counter-measures are more robust, and will more likely prevent the problem from recurring.

I am still thinking about ways of making the sessions more participant-centered, and letting them use the ‘Why Cards’ could be one of them. My other hope (or this could actually be the main reason) is that the course would inspire teachers = future trainers to reflect on their (teaching, training, learning, living) practice in the way that works for each individual.

You might hear more about this in the future. Thank you for reading!

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Communicative Activities?

I am working on input session materials for teachers, and the current module is speaking. One of the sessions discusses characteristics of communicative tasks. While reading on the topic, I re-read Scott Thornbury’s list of criteria (quoting it here as I will be referring to them later in the post)

Reference: C is for Communicative on Scott Thornbury’s blog (2010) 

In brackets (in blue) I was putting simplified definitions, or synonyms, that might work better for new(er) teachers.

Criteria for ‘communicativeness’

purposeful: Speakers are motivated by a communicative goal (such as getting information, making a request, giving instructions) and not simply by the need to display the correct use of language for its own sake.
reciprocal (interactive): To achieve this purpose, speakers need to interact, and there is as much need to listen as to speak.
negotiated: speakers need to check and repair the communication in order to be understood by each other.
synchronous (real time): the spoken exchange usually takes place in real time.
unpredictable: neither the process, nor the outcome, nor the language used in the exchange, is entirely predictable.
heterogeneous (free to use any language): participants can use any communicative means at their disposal, not being restricted to the use of a pre-specified grammar item.
contingent (authentic, relevant): The speakers’ utterances are connected, both to one another, and to the context (physical, social, cultural, etc.) in which they are uttered.
engaging (personalized): the speakers have a personal commitment to the communication and are invested in making it work.

How can we use these criteria work? Why are they needed? I was inspired to explore this question in more depth after (re-) reading my PLN’s blog posts written by Kevin (reflecting on a series of warmers in one particular week of teaching) and Hana (analyzing a running dictation activity) in 2014.

Today I would like to ‘test drive’ an idea for a session where teachers analyze a specific activity using the eight criteria above and adapt/adjust it so that more of such criteria were met.

I am taking Information Gap activities for this experiment. I am doing it because in such activities, as we know, two (or more) speakers have different parts of information making up a whole. This, by definition, provokes communication (or interaction, as we will see below). I would like to see if Information Gap activities are ‘communicative by default’.

Another reason for using this type of activities is that (in my opinion, and based on my experience), such activities can be designed for practically any stage of a lesson. I am thinking ‘presentation-practice-use’ (PPU) or ‘language analysis and practice’ (TBLT) or Test-Teach-Test, or… (ok, you see the point) Also, I simply love thinking about them and writing about them (as this earlier post shows)

Following Kevin and Hana’s idea, I am selecting one activity to think about.

Description

Students work in 4 groups (A, B, C and D), and each group receives one picture. Students are told that each group has one picture from a story, and that their task is to be ready to describe their part of the story (the picture, that is) with as much detail as possible. At this stage students can use dictionaries to look up words, and can be encouraged to take notes of those words for future ‘peer teaching’. They can also practice/rehearse their description to ensure clarity, fluency and confidence. [Note: tell students that each of them need to have the vocabulary notes, etc., as the groups are going to be ‘separated’ for the coming stage) Teacher can be helping at this stage by answering questions and providing language assistance, when needed.

Teacher takes away the pictures [Note: students might have already taken photos of the pictures on their smart phones by this stage, but they can still be reminded not to show them while they are doing the task in the next activity]

Students are working in new groups where there is a student from each of the earlier story-telling teams (A+B+C+D). They describe their pictures, listen to the other descriptions, take notes and ask questions, if needed. They may also ‘peer teach’ each other using the vocabulary notes they had taken in the previous groups. By the end of this stage, each group should have their version of a complete story. Teacher can be monitoring here and taking notes of language inaccuracies (or good language use) for later feedback. [Note: there isn’t any ‘correct’ order as such, unless readers point out otherwise, and so creative/humorous/unexpected solutions can be accepted, or even encouraged!]

 

Teacher shows all the four pictures on a slide/screen and students decide on the ‘correct’ order of the story.

[If time allows, students can still work with the second group and make comments ‘You didn’t tell me that ________’ or ‘You forgot to mention _________’ about some details in the pictures]

A follow up task can be drawing a missing picture, for example, or creating a different ‘ending’ to the story.

This stage can also be used for delayed language feedback based on the group activity just before. Students can reflect on the lesson and its level of engagement, challenge, learning outcome, etc.

Finally, and most likely as optional homework, students can complete the story in writing.

How ‘Communicative’ is this activity?

purposeful? Yes

There is communicative goal for students to find out the plot of the complete story.

reciprocal? (interactive?) Yes

Students may choose to interact with each other in the first group (to gain confidence) and need to talk to each other in the second group (to find out the others’ descriptions)

negotiated? Yes

Depending on the level of students, they would need to make themselves clear in describing the pictures and clarifying unknown vocabulary, if necessary

synchronous? (real time?): Yes and No?

Technically, speakers are communicating in the time of the lesson, but the activity asks them to take turns and re-tell/describe what’s in the picture.

unpredictable? Yes

This is especially true for the second round of group work where the members from the other groups will be trying to understand what’s in the picture

heterogeneous? (free to use any language?) Yes and No

Related to the above and being unpredictable due to the free choice of language to express themselves. The ‘no’ part comes from the assumption that students are still restricted by the language level they have, and/or the course syllabus or course book they are using.

contingent (authentic, relevant): Yes

It links to the need to be clear about the description and perhaps relating to the same characters mentioned by the previous speaker. Their descriptions will be related to the cultural background (fairy-tales) they heard and read as children, or read/tell their own kids.


engaging (personalized): Yes and No

Students may be (should be!) motivated and curious to find out what the others have in their pictures and what makes a story. The ‘no’ comes from being unsure how interesting this type of task can be for a learner, especially adults.

My thoughts …

  1. The list of criteria can be used to analyze an activity in the planning stage (before a lesson) but would turn into a more useful tool if used as a reflective tool (after the activity is applied in the classroom). Doing it in a planning stage involved some guessing, as you see above.
  1. As mentioned by Kevin and Hana (and Scott, I think) the list isn’t prescriptive but can be seen as a way to encourage teachers to think more about what “communicative” entails.

and questions (to myself and readers):

  1. Do you agree with my evaluation of the activity according to the criteria listed?
  2. How many criteria need to be met so that an activity could be called labelled ‘communicative’?
  3. The list mostly describes the final communicative task (aka Fluent Use stage activity) but could it possibly be applied to the earlier activities in a lesson (aka practice)?
  4. Are there any ELT activities ‘communicative by default’?

Acknowledgement: these pictures were created by a former participant on one of the courses I ran for her practice teaching lesson. Thank you Maria for your permission to use them!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Is the Reflective Process Boring?

This question came up in a conversation with my colleague, and I am still thinking about it. My first response was a (usual passionate and confident) ‘Of course it is not!’ I later decided to think it over in more depth and add a paragraph post here.

Some background and context setting: we are now in the process of mapping out a small intensive ‘crash-course’ for new teacher trainers. The goal is to help experienced teachers raise awareness of what kind of skills working with teachers may involve, discuss some criteria for a (good) interactive workshop session for their colleagues, and then co-plan and co-deliver a workshop session based on ready-made materials provided. 

One of the fears expressed by my colleague was that the process of in-depth reflection, processing the experiences, self-assessment, peer evaluation, analyzing the strengths and areas to work on, working out an action plan (and doing other reflective tasks) could feel ‘boring’ or ‘tiring’ for the audience. This concern was based on the teacher training experience in the past, when the course participants expected the sessions to be practical, with lots of ready-made activities and fun. The feedback to more ‘serious’ sessions was not as positive as the facilitator had expected.

‘Spring? She has already left!’ OR How not to ‘freeze’ the reflective process 🙂

Some thoughts I ‘caught’ while typing the paragraph above:

  • the clarity of course goals and pre-course information is crucial, so that our potential participants could see what the course is (and is not) about and decide if they wanted to join;
  • some pre-course check-in could be helpful to discuss this (and other!) potential concerns
  • varying the formats of our course interaction, using different co-training patterns and roles
  • staying alert to the group dynamics during the session (when a break might be needed, some clarification, an example, etc.) [Yes, these are all very basic and self-explanatory, I know!]
  • balancing the kinds of trainer experience in focus: shared, vicarious, previous, guest speaker’s, etc.
  • offering structures/frameworks for the reflective process
  • asking for feedback [and listen to it!]
  • ...???

I wonder if we could/need to explicitly discuss the value of a dialogue as a part of reflective practice, being mentally engaged as opposed to having ‘fun’ (and how/when/why combining both is possible)

So, I don’t think the process of reflection is boring. What are your thoughts?

Thank you for reading!

P.S. March Paragraph Blogging looks very attractive: I have enjoyed reading the series of posts from Matthew and Sandy. Too late to join, but you may see some paragraph-y posts from me from time to time, I hope! 🙂

 

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Guest Post: My Training Bag

Background: If you read this blog more or less regularly, you remember how #liveninguptheprocesschallenge started with this earlier post of mine.

So far several bloggers joined me in sharing what they bring to class:

Introduction: Today, I am very excited to host the very first guest post on this blog! Kate Cook is my colleague and friend, an English teacher and teacher trainer, curriculum designer, passionate traveller, salsa dancer, hiker and walker, swimmer and coffee drinker.

Kate and I first met on a PCELT training course in Lebanon several years ago, and immediately started noticing the little things brought to our input sessions and demonstration lessons. As any successful co-training experience, that course involved lots of walks and dinners together, where we were reflecting on the days in the classroom and exchanging ideas and experiences. The idea to start this thread was conceived in one of those conversation, for which I am grateful to Kate. So… the floor is hers!

I’m just getting ready to leave for a training trip to Sri Lanka. To be honest I don’t know a huge amount about the context yet, except that I’ll be working with trainee teachers in a national teacher training college. Here are a few things I’ll be putting in my bag.

Attention getter. These little bells work well as a gentle way to signal for attention. I just give them a little shake and there is immediate silence (well, that’s the theory). Actually they are usually quite effective in getting teachers to stop what they are doing and shift their focus back to me.

I’ve experimented recently with call and response, such as ‘Ready to rock…..Ready to roll’ or ’Hocus pocus…..Everybody focus!’ and while these are fun, for me there is something a little counterintuitive about making a lot of noise as a signal for silence, so I think I’ll be going back to the bells.

Popsicle/lollipop sticks. I LOVE these little sticks. I usually ask participants to write their name on a stick on day 1 and then after that use them to establish random groups and sometimes to assign seating (put sticks on tables or even on individual chairs). I also use them to nominate speakers during the feedback stage of an activity – but only when participants have already had the chance to compare or share ideas in pairs or groups – I don’t want to put anyone unnecessarily on the spot. I find they really help to even out participation and prevent one or two people dominating.

Quotes. I always arrive with a stack of quotes (20-30) on coloured A4 paper. The way I use them varies. I often put them up on the walls before the course begins so people have something to look at and think about as soon as they arrive. Occasionally I use them as a first-day activity and let each everyone choose one quote that ‘speaks’ to them. They can then share their ideas in pairs, groups or in a mingle and finally post ‘their’ quote on the wall. I may refer to a particularly relevant quote during a session or wrap up a session by asking participants to find a quote which they feel relates to the content of the session. Sometimes I don’t refer to them at all, and just allow the conversations around them develop more organically.

Brain-breaks. I just discovered these this year and am now a total convert. Brain-breaks are short mental or physical breaks to help participants stay focused and engaged. It can be something as simple as asking participants to ‘high five’ everyone at their table, going through a very simple, short series of yoga stretches, or doing the actions to the ‘Chicken Song’ (quite a favourite with Thai teachers). Many of the physical brain-breaks are most easily understood from watching a demonstration on YouTube.

Coins. I used to travel with dice for board games. However, most ELT or training games are to promote discussion and I found that using dice sometimes led to a very swift journey around the board. Now I more often ask participants to flip coins (heads = 1 and tails = 2). I have also realised that it’s actually quite hard to get dice in some countries, and so it is perhaps more useful to model using something more easily available.

The Magic of Metaphor: 77 Stories for Teachers, Trainers and Thinkers by Nick Owen. I bought this book a couple of years ago and now I often pack it in my training bag. I think stories, metaphors and analogies can make learning memorable, and I love that they are open to multiple interpretations so each person can decide for themselves how they feel it may (or may not) relate to their own context.

A fish. I find that encouraging participants to observe practice teaching classes objectively and describe what actually happened, as opposed to what they think might have happened, is quite a challenge. I often use Agassiz Fish Story to introduce the topic of observation (if you don’t know it, just google…great story!). My fish then becomes a concrete reminder of the importance of careful, objective, detailed observation. Later in the course it is sometimes enough for me to hold up the fish or say ‘think of the fish’ to remind participants to include as much detail as possible in their observation notes.

Thank you very much for the great post Kate, and good luck in your new training adventures!

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Jig-saw and/or Info Gaps?

There are times when I am trying to solve a puzzle, and there are days when my mind prefer to create puzzles in order to solve them. Today is such a day. Well, to be completely honest, this has been on my mind for some time lately, and working on materials for an online speaking module (or rather, procrastinating and using Friday as an excuse) I felt it would be a good time to write about one of those puzzles.

I have been using terms ‘Jig-saw’ and ‘Info-Gap’ in my teacher lingo and classroom repertoire for years and years. One could even say I ‘abuse’ them. The same is true about my training sessions and courses for teachers. I like the interactive aspect such activities bring and their learner-centered (learning-centered) nature.

A part or the whole?

Some notes below were taken in the process of my basic research on the subject, and its main purpose is not to forget what I learned.

The article on Developing Speaking Activities from The National Capital Language Resource Center website refers to both of them as ‘Structured Output Activities’ where ‘students complete a task by obtaining missing information, a feature the activities have in common with real communication’.

An information gap activity is an activity where learners are missing the information they need to complete a (communicative) task and need to talk to each other to find it. – from Teaching English

Well-known examples include: describe and draw (your house), spot the difference (between the two pictures), split dictations (half of train schedule to complete), etc.

Jigsaw activities are more elaborate information gap activities that can be done with several partners. Each partner has one or a few pieces of the “puzzle,” and the learners must cooperate to fit all the pieces into a whole picture. In other words, jigsaw technique is a method of organizing classroom activity that makes students dependent on each other to succeed. It breaks classes into groups and breaks assignments into pieces that the group assembles to complete the (jigsaw) puzzle. – from Wikipedia

I was curious to learn about the purpose of creating such a technique in the US in 1950s by social psychologists: according to Wikipedia, such activities helped kids in mixed schools be integrated and reduce racial discrimination. Knowing this I now see the difference between these activity types more clearly: jig-saw can be seen as a way to make a lesson flow more interactive and encourage learners to cooperate, whereas info gap tasks are aiming to simulate real-life communication and can help developing more than just grammatical and lexical skills.

Extra reading:

Creating Meaningful Speaking Activity to Young Learners by Using Information Gap by Dian Savitri and Danny Lutvi Hidayat

Great Idea: Jigsaw activities from the British Council site

Find the Gap – Increasing Speaking in Class by Gareth Rees (my all-time favorite old article!)

Sandy Millin’s post focusing on how set up such activities (it may be hard if you are doing it for the first time with your students!)

The Jigsaw Technique post on Education World, with links to resources and examples

Can be a jig-saw puzzle. Possibly.

Final (mostly related) thoughts:

Hana Ticha’s post earlier this month reminded me about this topic and was an inspiration to write this post. In the post, the classroom examples she uses might each be an illustration to the difference described here. But… does it matter to the student learning? Is this terminology for the sake of it?

In my first ever teacher training course back in 2005 (time flies!) I tried to challenge myself and asked the group of teachers to browse through a course book and find an activity they think I would not be able to turn into an info gap or jig-saw type of activity. They spent about 10 minutes reading, then closed the books and gave up. I have often been using the same task in training sessions since then 🙂

Questions to ponder:

Are such activities helpful to all/most/some learners?

What might their disadvantages be? One I can think about is the ‘push’ to talk to others, not leaving a choice for more introvert, shy or less confident learners.

Is it important to know the terms in order to make more conscious classroom choices?

How does knowing the difference help teachers (or does not it?)

Thank you for reading! 🙂

Posted in Teacher Reflections, Trainer Reflections | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

My Blogging Mood

I sometimes have this idea about me being different depending on the project I am involved in, or the place where I travel, or the thoughts I have, etc. One example can be me speaking English versus L1-s, or being on a face-to-face course versus doing other non-training work (writing, reviewing, etc.) or blogging and not blogging actively. Sometimes I wish these ‘personalities’ could interact with each other, share the wisdom from the momentum, reminding that they all exist.

I am now taking notes from this ‘Blogging Time’ inspiration, where writing feels easy, ideas come naturally and page after page appears smoothly (and I want to write more and more). I know this will pass. I simply want to remember how it feels, and get back to this page when I am not in the shape to produce a post.

Tips to remind myself about:

  1. start a new post as soon as the previous one is published: you will most likely have an idea of a topic to develop, and even some starting points to make; sometimes, half a draft can come up without an effort;
  2. create a folder with the post ideas: start collecting images and add them there, which will help you take another look at the topic/title, make a note or even a paragraph, depending on the time available;
  3. decide when you want to post the next one and mark in the calendar, including its topic (a bit of commitment and some realistic planning never hurts);
  4. set a time (and again mark it in the calendar) when you will do the actual writing; usually it is about an hour for me, provided that there are some ideas drafted and the topic has been ‘brewing’ in my head for some time;
  5. re-read, edit, proofread, check links and publish (don’t delay this for too long, as the ‘spur of the moment’ might disappear!);
  6. hit ‘publish’ and repeat!

a moment to capture

Notes and thoughts:

  • yes, some topics require more serious reading/research/think time, so it may take much longer to come up with a quality post
  • well, the whole procedure could take about 15 minutes, as with this short post
  • no, you don’t always need an image

It may be a natural thing to share such tips and plan at the beginning of a new year (jotted this down in January and curious how I would feel about it in March, July and October! :))

Do you have any ‘tips to self’ to share in order to capture your productive (or any other) mood?

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Facilitator-less Sessions

The deepest dependency is not of students upon teachers, but of teachers upon students.

– Peter Elbow, Writing without Teachers

I don’t know if the adjective ‘facilitator-less‘ exists but decided to choose this title for my post.

Background: if you read this blog, you already know that I facilitate an Reflective Practice Group meetings for teachers (I know, I know: these have been too much on my blog about the ideas and topics for this group, so I am not going to write another post about it today) One challenge this year is me moving to another city in Ukraine and being roughly 800 km away from the meetings venue means I don’t always facilitate them. This is great on many levels, and I don’t want to list the reasons.

Now, one challenge with having several people potentially able to run a meeting may also mean that sometimes it is hard to find someone available (due to personal reasons, being busy at work, taking a trip, spending time with a child, getting ready to a big winter holiday celebration, etc.) One obvious solution is to cancel the meetings in such cases: extra time off never hurts, as teachers already lead busy lives. At the same time, for some people the time on vacation would be a chance to come and enjoy a reflective session. Besides, cancelled meetings is not an ideal practice if we really want to keep something going.

So… another solution to experiment with could be a session without a facilitator (I hope I am no re-inventing a wheel here) Something I took part in the past were so-called ‘Swap Shops’ where each participant is bringing an idea or an activity to share, and takes about 5-10 minutes of everyone’s time to explain or demonstrate it. Everyone else participates and asks questions, etc., then another participant takes a lead. It is almost (90%?) ‘Facilitator-less’, as the leader is usually monitors the time and sometimes asks a question to keep the session going. In our RP group we have tried this format using the topic ‘One Book’ where everyone brought a book they read this year and shared why it left lasting impressions and significant learning by answering 4 questions on a poster.

Can a session be held completely without a facilitator? My current answer ‘yes, it can’. Having a topic plus some questions brainstormed beforehand would be helpful, and then during the meeting the participants can decide how to keep the time (for example, using a timer function on a Smart Phone) and how to make transitions from one topic to the other.

A couple of possible topics I see are the following:

Magic in Class (sharing essentials/realia to bring and use in class and/or using each of them for brainstorming more potentially creative and unusual ideas). What started on my blog turned into a small blogging challenge (don’t forget to click the links at the end to enjoy other posts!)

Teaching Higher Proficiency Levels (or Beginner/Lower, if this is what seems to be more relevant). As a starter, some beliefs can be discussed (I created a possible list last year in this post, but it is obviously not an exhaustive one)

One Image‘ as a session topic was suggested in comments by Christina. Quoting her:

‘be it static or moving, canned or authentic (e.g. an original capture from group members), as something visual might prompt extremely motivating and powerful contributions.’

An alternative format could be a Written/Quiet Discussion when questions are asked and answered in writing and by the end of the session there is some tangible result, or a ‘product’, created by the meeting participants on a poster, on the board, on a piece of paper even.

Reading and Discussing session is another format to consider. In this type of sessions a book chapter or an article is read by all the members of the group beforehand. This is not new and people have been experimenting with the idea, for example, Gemma Lunn has been doing in her ELT Academic Reading group, or David Kaufher’s organized teacher get-togethers, like the one about Vocabulary described in this post (sharing questions and a research article before the meeting). Another example is Mark Makino’s Reading Circles where each member has a specific role to play (the author describes it as a possible way to organize an end-of-term feedback collecting, and it seems to be a great idea for teacher sessions, too)

trying out and reflecting on some less- or non-ELTish ideas and activities, for example, using Visible Thinking resource .

Lesson Jamming idea described in Sandy Millin’s earlier post .

What else might work in the ‘facilitator-less’ mode? What sessions for teachers by teachers have you run or attended? What potential pitfalls are there to be aware of?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

Update in February 2018: This post by Kate called Another Stitch in the TD Picture shows how the whole school PD system can come out of a systematic/strategic approach, and trust in teachers. 

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Reflecting on Blogging: Part 2, Writing

I took away the part ‘in 2017’ from the title. As the title got lengthy, I did not add the second half I like so much: ‘Closing (Some) Loops‘. This post is my second round of reflective thoughts about blogging (you can read its part 1 focusing on the reading others’ blogs)

I tweeted this last month

Questions to ponder

I then tried to imagine myself being a reader of this blog: what would I want to ask the author? What reminders could I send her? Questions I would ask? Is there anything that has been promised but never followed up on? What ‘loops’ have been opened but never closed? In this post I would like to talk about some of those loops. You will see that some are easy to ‘close’ and some are less so. Some may be doomed to stay open.

50 words

It’s a page with a couple of sub-pages where I was collecting my 50-word thoughts in 2015-2016. I stopped last year and never got myself to maintain this list. Even though the process to create a 50-word note is fun, it needs to be done on a regular basis to make sense. Also, getting back to the ideas there and creating a post, conducting a small research needs more discipline (time, energy, etc.). For now, I will keep it as a page.

PD Challenge

I wrote 2 posts 2017 with this title: New and Experienced Teachers and Multi-Subject Teacher GatheringOne more post that could have had this title was on Teaching Higher Levels written in 2016.  The part that worked for me was sharing the question or a task I felt was challenging and trying to create my own (selfish!) opportunity for professional development using this blog as the reflective lounge. At the same time, as a reader of this blog I imagine would be curious how the session went.

Updates: the Multi-Subject meeting has not happened yet, but I hope it is something to look forward to in the coming year. My ‘live session planning’ and ‘thinking aloud’ exercises on this blog were helpful and resulted in a simple slide deck for the presentation, and my enhanced confidence level. I think I will keep sharing those PD Challenges with you in 2018 🙂

Connecting

Working as a freelance trainer and curriculum designer has a lot of benefits, but sometimes often could feel a bit isolated and disconnected from colleagues and community. ‘Connecting’ in its various formats became my theme in 2016-2017: apart from facilitating a reflective group for teachers, I started (and almost failed to maintain) a small local consultancy service ‘Mobile Director of Studies’, and made several attempts to create a community of teacher trainers in my country. In 2016 I shared a post about this.

Since I have never followed up on how the developed, let me do it now. In 2017, I ran two sessions for teacher trainers in the format of ‘Round Table’: the first one was more of an introduction of the idea, pretty much as the post describes. The second one was focusing on Planning and Running a Workshop Session, and its abstract said the following:

‘Even if you are not yet formally a ‘trainer’ or a ‘teacher mentor’ (but definitely if you are!) you may be asked to deliver an input session to your colleagues, and/or run a seminar to the newer teachers at your organization, and/or deliver a workshop or a training to a group of teachers. Some of us have taken certain training on how to do this, and many of us have developed an intuitive approach to creating and delivering such sessions. The session will be an invitation to share ‘tips and tricks’ for successful training sessions for teachers.’

During the session, we were discussing these questions:

1) Where do we start when preparing a workshop session for other teachers?
2) What kind of session formats do you know (have you used or attended as a participant)?
3) What criteria of a ‘successful’ workshop session can we use? (and what makes a session ‘effective’ and ‘helpful’ for teachers?)
4) What tricks and tips for developing and delivering a workshop session can you share with fellow trainers?

We also created a (semi-active) Closed Facebook Group, which I hope to contribute to more in the coming year. If the group gets more interactive in 2018, I would like to share an update about it. If you don’t hear anything about it in the coming 12 months, it would simply mean I said goodbye to the idea.

RP Reading Club

Since it was created in 2015, only one article was read and blogged about in the ‘club’ format, and there is a post about it hereThe reason I stopped was not having a ‘peer’ to read together. Without a need (or a push?) for conducting formal research it is hard to keep reading, and even harder to reflect on the reading in writing. In 2017 my colleague and I almost started creating a new course featuring reflective practice skills for teachers, but we put it on a pause for a number of reasons (lack of time, other work commitments, etc.) The might get its ‘second wind’ in our reflective practice group, and if it does, I will keep sharing.

< < Not writing > >

This is not a ‘theme’ as such, but a part of my freelance living and writing reality: sometimes I make a pause and you don’t hear from me for quite a while. In 2017, this was the time between March and August: not a single post for 6 months!

The reasons this year were often about lack of time (which I don’t like as an excuse, but still) and having to spend lots of time at my screen doing various types of writing for work, e.g. developing a series of workshops for parents in an Asian country helping their young children to read in English extensively (March), putting together a module on listening and speaking for an online course for teachers in a Central American country (May-June), and running global online courses (throughout the year). There were smaller projects and events: consultancy trips, moving to another city, becoming an aunt, more trips between the two homes now, etc. 

A lot of simple life events needed my full presence, energy and time, leaving none of those for blogging. Sometimes, in the midst of everything I simply forgot the magic effect of writing and sharing with my supportive PLN: the clarity it brings, the ideas it invites, the breeze and energy from the experience… In the darker days, I even started to doubt the effect of blogging as a professional development tools, and almost gave myself in to an impostor feeling

I then found this early post of mine written in 2014 and sharing (25!) reasons to start this blog. I could also think of one more reason blog: use writing as a way of clarifying my own thinking process, as a tool to calm down, to ‘silence’ the inner critic. This insight was helpful to re-start!

Final thoughts

Having read the post above I can see a couple of new promises made, a couple of ‘loops’ closed (or explained). I am also wondering if there is anything else that you, my reader, remember me promising to write about and never doing so (could have happened in comments, on Twitter, in other conversations). I would like to have a ‘loop-less’ 2018! (does that count for a new year resolution?)

Overall, I feel lighter, and motivated to keep writing.

Harbuz Cafe in Lviv

Questions:

  1. What loops (on your blog, or in your professional development) are you planning to close in the coming year?
  2. Do you generally feel comfortable with having some loops open?
  3. How would you answer the questions about blogging (as in the image at the top of this post)

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Reflecting on Blogging in 2017: Part 1, Reading

Confession: I really wanted to call this post ’17 things I learned from reading blogs in 2017′ using Sandy Millin’s fantastic idea in this post about her learning in the past year. It appears to be really hard to ‘fit’ into the specific figure, so I might eventually quit the ’17’ idea. Still, you can see where I am getting at: December is the last month of the year and this by itself is an encouragement to look back at the previous 12 months and share the learning that happened. It is also a chance to feel the moment of the leaving year and to wholeheartedly welcome the new calendar page.

Since this part is the ‘reading’ part of the reflective process, let me share the posts that helped me grow and develop this year.

In July Hana Ticha wrote her post called Burnout Syndrome of the TEFL community and shared her concern about the silence of the bloggers she was/is following. My initial thoughts after reading her post went along the lines of ‘sure, this must be summer!’ I then checked the date of my latest post and saw that it had been about four months since I posted. Summer, really? That post by Hana made me start checking my WP Reader more often. This, in turn, let me read several great responses shared by the bloggers I respect and eagerly follow: Vedrana, Anna, Matthew, Mike and Pete, blogged about their reasons for (not) writing. Wise, open, deep reflections. They reminded me how much I love the reading part of blogging, and connecting to the people some (most!) of whom I have never even met in person (I still secretly believe we may meet one day, but that’s not the point now… 🙂 )

Anna Loseva’s Happy ELT Story (or to me, Live Blogging Party) idea showed the art to use the situation (only two people showing up for a reflective group meeting)flexibly and creatively, with maximum learning outcome to those who did show up. It prompted a new concept of ‘facilitator-less sessions’ for teachers (the post is still brewing) and an idea of a different blogging genre to try in the future. 

Vedrana Estatiev’s post on arranging Anonymous Peer Reviewing/feedback giving on an online course shared a cool example of how students could do some work instead of the teacher (well, at least a part of it) and benefit as learners. It was also a reminder to be more learner-centered no matter what kind of environment, or platform we are using.

Svetlana Kandybovich’s post A Penny for Your Thoughts offered a great speaking activity idea, and as she often does through her writing, made me feel inspired and motivated to experiment.

Matthew Noble’s post In Praise of Papyrus was (1) a good example how ideas can be seen as creative genius that come and leave us, and (2) showed that we have so much in common, even though we have never worked together on a course. [Note: Well, we almost did, but ‘almost’ is a key word. Another time!]

Josette LeBlanc’s post Links I Have Found Useful Along the Way offered a great reference point, and serves an additional way to communicate with her through the books, articles and sites she recommends.

Christina C.’s post Just Being There was a description of one of the Teacher Hub sessions she prepared and facilitated, and this by itself was a reason to keep it in my records. Besides, she kindly allowed me to use the idea in one of our RP Group meetings, for which I am grateful! Also, her later post about learning The Bravery of Seeded Apples was not only beautifully authentic and warm but also demonstrated a new genre of writing to me.

Ljiljana Havran’s post on Librarians as Teacher Leaders spoke to me for the same reason: an idea how Professional Development can be done in alternative formats and how important it is to ‘think and look outside the box’ (or get rid of the box completely!)

Michael Griffin’s post and presentation slides ask a good question: ‘But what if we are wrong?‘ came out about ten days after I gave a short plenary talk at a Teacher Training Day in Kiev called ‘The Why of Learning-Centered Teaching’, where several beliefs were discussed and questioned. 

Kamila Linkova’s post on Course Admin for Freelancers is a great read to me, as someone who is constantly learning and reading about life management in general and work flow management in particular.

Marc Jones wrote a post about his views on Job Interview, and this was something that caught my eye as a shared (and confirmed!) freelancer belief. In fact, this is just one example of many showing that the ‘free’ part in the word ‘freelancer’ is important.

Finally, iTDI’s issue A Day in the Life of… shared four posts on the topic, offers four meetings with great teachers, invites to think/talk/write about our daily routines, thoughts, teaching and learning beliefs (and is actually an idea for a new blogging challenge some time in 2018?) 

**[A big note: all the blogs where I am referring to one specific post are worth following and reading on a regular basis!]

Happy Winter Holidays to everyone reading this post: love, peace, kindness, warmth to you and yours! I (secretly) assume that the authors mentioned above will be reading this post, so it is my chance to express gratitude for the learning process we are sharing, to wish inspiration and creative sparkle for the coming year.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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How I Plan (and Run!) a Reflective Practice Group Session

2017 is ending, and December is a good month to reflect on how the year has been. Since I call this blog my ‘reflective lounge’, it is okay to have a post about the aspect of my Professional (and personal) development I feel happy about: our monthly Reflective Group meetings in Dnipro, Ukraine.

In simple words, the meetings are a place and space for teachers to talk about their students, challenges, questions, insights and beliefs. They are not ‘seminars’ or ‘input sessions with new practice activities’; they are not about learning a new fancy term (although it can also happen during the group discussions!). The meetings have a new venue and a discussion topic every month, last about two hours, and the members may choose to attend every session, or some of them. These meetings are free for everyone, but we often bring some snacks to share.

[Note: some more information and resources, as well as links to other groups are on this page.]

Last academic year (2016/17) I facilitated all the meetings. This year we are experimenting and engaging volunteer facilitators to step in. I am excited about this, as the group needs to develop and grow, and not just in size. Having more people running the sessions make the meetings more memorable, varied, meaningful and unique. I am grateful that this is possible. At the same time, I am excited to co-plan a session and to brainstorm ideas for a meeting, if needed. The post below is a part of such ‘preparation conversations’ we have recently had.

First of all, let me share my meeting planning process (works for me in this order but I am sure it can be used creatively and flexibly):

  1. Choose a topic close to your heart (something you are curious or passionate about at the moment): together, we created a list of possible topics to choose from  but there are also additional ones that come up. For example, one session was focusing on something the facilitator was thinking to bring up as a conference session (so the group’s reflections were centered around that topic); sometimes, it is a question that repeatedly comes up in a teacher’s practice (How can beginner adult language learners be more autonomous?’, for example) and could become a meeting’s focus.
  1. Create a small description for the session (it needs to be very small, usually 2-3 questions that the meeting will be asking, and/or some questions to think about before the session, and/or a task to complete (e.g., bring a book you recently read and would like to reflect on, etc.) It helps the facilitator to have a ‘starting point’ for the meeting and the participants to feel more prepared. Activating schema, if you like!
  1. Optional: create a small and simple handout for the session. When I facilitate a session, I usually put the same questions as the initial description had, leaving enough spaces for note-taking; sometimes (if there is some time!) I add a reminder of what the Experiential Learning Cycle is and a couple of reflective questions to prompt/promote its use during the meeting.
  1. If the earlier prep steps are made 2-3 weeks before the meeting, there could be some resources to share with the group on the topic. Those can either go to the handout, or be shared in the group on Facebook (and/or other social media channels you are using for group communication); I find this helpful if the discussion is less lively, or if there are very few members participating and the discussion is getting quieter; or as pleasant extras to talk about.
  1. Think about an ice-breaking activity for 5-10 minutes: this is helpful if there is a new member in a meeting, who needs a bit of time to get to know the group, and/or when some people are coming late (traffic jams, weather, etc.)
  1. Plan a feedback question, and/or ‘exit ticket’ kind of activity to wrap up the meeting and get feedback on what was useful, what the learning was, etc. This is more of a reminder to myself as I often have no time left for this important stage. An area to work on! 🙂

Some more preparation tips are below. They come in no particular order and were ‘tried and tested’ in our group in Ukraine:

  • be flexible about the meeting’s order, or ‘activities’: it is not a lesson, and the participants are not expecting you to be an ‘expert’ in the topic. If a discussion takes more time, let it continue.
  • if there seems to be a difficult question, it is okay to start sharing your own example or answer (oftentimes we refer to the ‘teaching’ part of self where letting the learners share first is ‘recommended’; in these meetings, everyone is a ‘learner’ or is wearing a ‘reflective hat’ and so there are no ‘teaching rules’ as such; or… any rules?);
  • allow the questions to touch two perspectives (at least): of yourself as a learner (in the past or at the moment) and of yourself as a teacher. By ‘yourself’ here I mean the facilitator and meeting participants;
  • remember not to have lots of input or theory as a part of the meeting; the more reflective and personal the questions are, the better. Remind yourself that it is not a ‘training session’ or ‘seminar’ or a talk;
  • don’t overplan the details, such as precise timing, group work or pairwork (this will largely depend on the number of people, the venue (is there a large table, or some smaller ones), on everyone’s mood, etc. Not planning these would leave space for being spontaneous.
  • if you can, don’t plan the meeting steps at all: have a set of questions and an open mind. Make sure you yourself are eager to take part (as a participant!) and are excited to hear what the others will be saying. It will make it more fun, more engaging and memorable.
  • feel comfortable to let the discussion digress from ‘teaching issues’ only (in the meeting feedback I collected last month several group members wrote that they enjoyed the ‘non-ELT’ topics and discussions that took place). We are talking about ‘alternative PD formats’ here and about finding inspiration, and those do not always ‘hide’ in talking about new activities and tasks for students;
  • listen to the questions asked in the process of the meeting (incorporate those questions in the discussion, giving them the priority over the ones you prepared); remember that there are no ‘teachers’ or ‘trainers’ in the room, only reflective professionals, and the meeting is running itself, oftentimes; sometimes these new questions bring new meeting topics!

I value this experience of professional development, especially now that I moved to Lviv and the group keeps meeting in Dnipro. My (secret) dream is to ‘spread’ this idea to more cities in Ukraine.

Questions to the readers:

  1. If you have ever run a reflective meeting: what have you done (do you do) differently, and why?
  2. If you have never run a reflective meeting (but might in the future): what else would you need to know in order to prepare?
  3. What questions and comments do you have?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Livening Up the Process

 

This morning I saw this post by Marianne Petty in my Twitter feed called Ideas to Liven Up Your Class where the author is sharing several simple ideas to use a soft ball in the classroom to make a lesson livelier, more engaging and tech-free.

Reading this post reminded me of an idea I have had for a long time: ask my colleagues, other teacher educators, what objects they bring to their sessions working with teachers to make them more exciting (and excited!) and to model real classroom interaction. In my plans dreams I thought I would ‘interview’ those trainers and ask them to share a picture of those objects. Now it seems to me that this idea might not ever happen, so I decided to ‘paragraph blog’ it here and to invite others to do the same.

To get us started, I’d like to tell you a little about the set of objects I like to use. I happened to take this picture in a session on Classroom Management for International House Dnipro teachers last year:

 

 

 

As you see, a soft ball is here, too. In my training sessions (besides learning names, just as Marianne described) I often use it as a turn-taking tool (throw the ball to the next speaker, or nominate the next speaker by throwing the ball to him/her). I also use those dice as soft balls if I need several groups playing at the same time.

Speaking of dice: they can be obviously used for a board game. Having these big ones work for a large class where the instructions for a task need to be demonstrated before students (or teachers!) play in their groups. I also like to create a ‘mock/fake’ board game by putting cards with words or pictures in a circle and have the players throw the dice to determine the number of steps to make and either make a sentence or give a definition, or… (well, I guess you see the point now!)

Post-it notes deserve their own post, I think. Just to say that having a pile at hand helps a lot when I want to collect some group work results (write one idea you heard from a partner, etc.) and/or collect feedback (put a note on a poster, on the board, etc.) and/or to have a review activity. With teachers it works when there are extra questions to be kept in a parking lot. As I said, this could actually be a new post. [Note: I hope to write it soon!]

The little counting sticks replace Cuisenaire rods to some extent (but weigh much less!): serve as a categorization tool (use the blue ones for pros and the red ones for cons; ask someone with a different color stick), or as a grouping tool (sit next to someone with the same color stick). They are good for story-telling, vocabulary practice, and many more ideas. I really love their size (did I mention they are very light?)

My voice is not very loud (people who have worked with me can confirm it) so when it comes to an engaging speaking activity, especially mingling (cocktail) where everyone is speaking loudly and happily, it may take a while to stop/re-direct the participants into a new task. If this seems less important in a real classroom with language learners, a training course for teachers uses the ‘compress button’ sometimes, when an activity needs to be stopped as soon as the group members see its point. I know, I know: people complain that they are interrupted in the most interesting place… At the same time, sometimes, this needs to be done. This was a long introduction to the drum in the picture: it makes a nice rhythmical sound and catches everyone’s attention immediately. And… it is very light, too (so it can travel with me if needed!)

Finally, the magic wand (sorry, a pencil and an eraser that can look like a magic wand, if used ‘properly’ with a confident gesture and a spell) Sometimes is good for modeling an activity for a Young Learner classroom, and sometimes as a metaphorical reminder that there is no ‘magic recipe’ in teaching (or training!) and that a bit of creativity and imagination can make miracles.

What do you have in your teaching or training bag? What do you like to use in class? What do you the same, and (most interestingly!) what do you use differently? Let’s keep talking in the comments.

As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

 

My older post on a close topic may be relevant here: Life into Lessons 

More inspiration can be found in an older post on realia by Rachael Roberts: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/rachael-roberts/rachael-roberts-realia

Updates: it looks like we are enjoying a new Blogging Challenge #LivenigUpTheProcess. See great posts by Lina here, by Hana Ticha here, by Svetlana here , by Micaela here, and by Kate hereAre you joining the  ? 🙂

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Possible Topics for Reflective Group Meetings

I will continue writing about our Reflective Group Meetings, and this post will share the topics from the previous year, and some ideas for the new school year meetings in an attempt to make a ‘calendar’.

2016-2017: ELC**

Introductory meeting (we discussed the idea of starting the group, ELC as a model for reflection, etc.)

One Student (this blog post describes the meeting)

Motivating Unmotivated (this post gives the idea of the meeting)

Exploring Teacher Beliefs (we looked at some ‘teaching areas’ where beliefs could be challenged or changed with time, wrote out those beliefs, analyzed where they might be coming from, shared and compared, etc.)

How to Break a Routine and Do Something New (we defined ‘routine’ in our lives and in the classroom, looked at some pros and cons of having them, and shared those that could be ‘broken’)

Learning from Failure (we shared our big and small failures and the learning from it; this session was somewhat ‘further’ from the classroom but helped us re-confirm the point of learning and reflecting as a daily practice)

Reflection as a Professional Development Tool (this was the last session in the school year before a summer break, so we looked at possible ways to reflect and talked about our plans for the coming year, including the topics shared below)

**the first five meetings had an explicit focus on the Experiential Learning Cycle: the first meeting was the first overview and a short ‘practice’ time by making Halloween bats (yes, crafts!). We then focused on each stage of the cycle in more detail in the following four meetings: describing one student, analyzing possible reasons for being unmotivated, exploring the roots for the beliefs/generalizations we have about teaching, planning SMART actions on how to break a routine. The final two meetings had a cycle ‘in mind’ and were using it to talk about the topics I mentioned.

 

2017-18: ONE

A New School Year (a draft of the meeting plan is in this post)

This year my idea is to try having a ‘theme’ for the meetings. To highlight the importance of learning from our own experience, I suggested that ‘One’ can be that connecting element. Similarly to the meeting ‘One Student’, each new session will invite the group members to think about and share/reflect on ONE specific moment, experience, interaction in their teaching lives. Some examples are below.

ONE …

  • interaction (with a student, a parent, a colleague, etc.)
  • group (of students you are working with)
  • course book (you have taught, or like, or dislike, etc.)
  • lesson (especially successful, a disaster lesson, an unplanned lesson, etc.)
  • lesson plan (the longest one, the shortest one, the strangest one, etc.)
  • observation (observing or being observed)
  • feedback (giving or receiving)
  • colleague (a critical friend, a buddy, someone who always disagrees, a difficult colleague, etc.)
  • boss
  • mentor
  • workplace
  • way to reflect
  • activity
  • minute (in my lesson this week)
  • piece of advice
  • day

That’s it for now. If you have any thoughts, questions, doubts or suggestions about any of the topics above, let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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RP Meeting Plan: A New School Year

A new school year started in this part of the world, and we are going to have our first Reflective Group Meeting at the end of the month. Exciting!

The topic for the meeting says ‘A new academic year’ and looks quite ‘open’, leaving us space for discussion and reflection. In this post I am going to share some ideas on how the session plan might look, and ask for your input and feedback on this. [Note: if you want to read more about the idea of Reflective (Practice) Groups, please visit this page with a description and links to other groups around the globe]

I got the idea for this meeting by following Anna Loseva’s blog where she shared how a meeting on a similar topic went in Tokyo, in April (yes, that’s how we learn that a new school year does not have to start in September only!)

She describes a simple session format where the question: ‘What’s important in the beginning of a term?’ generated a lot of ideas from the teachers who participated (check the post for the full list!)

I like the question very much and would like to start a session with it. I am wondering how similar or different the responses would be (and if this ‘comparing/contrasting’ could make a potential task for the group members?)

I was reading and re-reading the list several times and noticed that the ideas shared by teachers could form several categories: Life, Professional Development (PD), Teaching, Learning (Process), Learners. I am wondering if ‘categorizing’ could make another possible task for the session participants, and in what way it could help them come up with more ideas, if needed?)

Looking at these categories again, I started looking for a word describing the process and ‘fitting’ all of them: Managing (learners, learning, PD, etc.)? Reflecting? Noticing? Thinking about? I was almost ready to use it as a session activity, too, but realize it is going aside from the session topic. Or is it not? Sometimes, one word means a lot.

After having our own list(s) and comparing them as a group I think it would be time to get back to the Experiential Learning Cycle review. This would be especially important if we have new members of the group attending the session for the first time. [Note: there is a great IH Journal article about Reflection and Reflective Practice by Jamie King]

A simple way to do it could be choosing an aspect of my own list for the new year and ‘taking it through the cycle’ by describing an experience that made me select it as ‘important’, analyzing several possible reasons (of choosing it, of it being ‘ important’ for me right now, of its possible impact to the learners I am working with, etc.), forming conclusions/beliefs based on this and setting an action plan for the coming year. The group members would then do the same in small groups. Action plans and questions could be shared with everyone as a follow-up.

Navigli, Milan, Italy. August 2017.

Towards the end of the session, if we still have time, I would like to show these questions from Harvard Business Review article by Elizabeth Grace Sounders. The title of the article is ‘Stop Setting Goals You Actually Don’t Care About‘ and it was written in the context of writing New Year resolutions (seems relevant for us teachers at this time of the school year!)

To begin thinking of your own professional development goals, start by asking yourself three questions:

1) If I could accomplish just ONE major professional development goal in [2017/18], what would it be?
2) When I think about working on this goal, do I get excited about the process as well as the outcome?
3) Is my motivation to pursue this goal intrinsic, something coming from within because it is personally interesting and important, or extrinsic, something that I feel would please other people?

 

At this point (do we still have time?) it would be great to share which ONE goal the group members would like to keep for the year, and what steps they could be making towards its achievement.

What would you suggest changing or adding? Developing or clarifying? I am still ‘playing with ideas’ for this session, so yours are more than welcome!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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