Why didn’t the ‘Why Cards’ work?

In my earlier post I described an idea of using so-called ‘Why Cards‘ during a course for trainers. In this post I’d like to reflect on trying this idea out.

Briefly, the initial idea was that each participant receives a small post-it note with a question ‘Why?’ on it, just as the image below shows.

Facilitator explains that during the course sessions, participant can ‘activate’ the card any time by raising it and asking a question to about the purpose of the current activity.

I had been hoping that (quote) ‘using the ‘Why’ card during our training sessions could make a difference to the participants’ and that ‘they may find it motivating/engaging to be able to ‘pause’ a session and ask why we are doing a certain activity‘. In fact, I can’t offer any objective ‘data’ on this, as the question about using the cards had not been added to our feedback form. The reflections and conclusions below are my own.

When the idea to use the card was introduced, the participants clarified who the question should be addressed to: the facilitators, and/or peers. This was not something I had thought about, so my co-trainer and I let them make a choice (and if needed, ask the questions to peers). This resulted in questions peers like ‘Why are you making this comment now?’ or ‘Why do you think that what you are saying now is important/relevant, etc.?’ At the moment (in-action), I feared that we would end up digressing** a lot, but it seemed to stimulate the participants to be more attentive to what the others are saying.

[Note while writing this: ‘digressing’ on a pilot course may be quite a good idea (would simply show that the course facilitator is responding to what the group needs at the moment. Another opportunity for ‘reflection-in-action?’]

One participant was actively using the card on a regular basis (almost in every session) and directed her questions to the facilitator. She was asking about the purpose of certain activities (a filler/warmer we were repeatedly using during the course, for example) and that stimulated great discussions and everyone sharing points of view.

In the second half of the course (we met on two consecutive weekends), I realized that the cards were almost forgotten: none of the participants had them on their desks on the second Saturday. I reminded about the cards, and some new ones were created immediately. I wonder if one of the reasons for not keeping them (in their ‘physical’ form, or as an idea/tool) was that the cards looked like simple post-it notes, not being memorable or important (or well-designed, funny, cute, etc.) More importantly, by the time we met for the second part of the course, the ‘ice’ (whatever form of it had existed at the beginning) was melted and all the participants were comfortable to ask questions when they had them (and being adult learners, did not need a color card to do so) I am thinking to share my reflections with the group and hope to hear a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to this conclusion 🙂

As a course facilitator, I started pausing a session from time to time and ask ‘Would you like to see why this could be so?’ or ‘Could anyone answer a ‘Why?’ question here?’ I wonder if I was doing it in order to ‘save’ my little creative idea?

Deciding to use this idea prompted me to ‘start with Why’ in each session, adding a slide with a brief explanation/rationale for having it in the course (example below)

Generally, my co-trainer and I were asking the ‘Why?’ question to ourselves more often while planning the daily agenda and/or deciding on our priorities for the day. I guess that by making the questioning strategy explicit to the participants we did so for ourselves, too. Crucial for any course planning, in my opinion, but is especially important for a pilot project (reflection for action, so to say)

Why were these cards avoided by the participants? (some possible reasons):

  1. Did they feel they were interrupting the session by this question? (Would it be relevant to the others? Should I wait and ask later?)
  2. Did they not want to make the facilitator feel ‘questioned’ about the activities and sessions during the course? (Politeness as the main reason?)
  3. Did they think raising the cards was a bit childish/silly/strange?
  4. Did the other two posters (Parking Lot and Burning Questions) interfere? Too many routines and regulations might have prevented from clarity…
  5. … [do you see any other possible reasons]?

The most obvious step would have been to ask the participants for their feedback on this (which I will certainly do, if I ever re-use this idea, or create something new for the second round of the course this Fall

Final (Semi-Related)?) Thoughts

I’d like to share a piece of conversation with a teacher on a TESOL course I ran in South Korea some years ago. Background: teachers prepare and submit a written lesson plan where they describe the lesson objective and steps of the lesson to the students attending the vacation classes. This lesson would be taught the following morning. The conversation is happening in private, with a trainer (me) reading the plan.

Activity I saw in the plan: in pairs, students read the dialogue aloud, line by line, one by one.

  • Trainer: What’s the reason for Ss to do this activity?
  • Teacher: To practice the dialogue.
  • Trainer: Well, this is the teacher’s objective. Why might the student need to do this task?
  • Teacher: As I said, to practice the dialogue and improve their English.

I wonder if adding an explicit ‘Why?’ element to our input sessions on that course would/could help teachers question themselves in lesson design and while making in-class decisions?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Time Off, Away, and Unplugged

This is a post about my time off. I don’t usually write blog posts or even social media status updates about my free time or vacations (just share snapshots to keep friends and family in the know about my trips and important events). I use this blogging space for sharing session ideas, reflecting on my professional experience or simply asking questions. A ‘Why?’ question, for example 🙂

I recently asked myself why I am not posting/sharing much about my vacation and free time and realized that… well… I don’t have completely ‘free’ time. Being a freelancer, I have been usually working (in different meanings of ‘work’ of course) and used to see the idea of time off’ as a time to switch from one professional activity to another. If I am not writing something new, I am editing. If not working on a course (online or face-to-face), I am applying to projects. Or updating a profile. Or writing a blog post… Or reading (no, not fiction, something serious). Or… The list can be longer, and it can get boring.

Well, I do other ‘activities’ as described in this post, but oftentimes I have to ‘budget’ the time for them, and make sure I get back to ‘work mode’ not to miss a deadline, etc. I think for many teachers reading this post ‘free time’ is even bigger luxury than I can imagine.

No, this post is not about how tired I was: I love the job I have, and feel lucky for the chance to choose the projects I am working on and grow professionally as I meet fantastic teams and colleagues.It is about my personal discovery of what ‘time off’ can mean, and why I now know it is important. It is my attempt to ‘document’ this feeling and to re-read what it means next time I consider leaving my computer at home for several days in a row, stay off Facebook and only occasionally check e-mails (as you see, it was not completely ‘offline’ time)

To me, taking 6 days off work and leaving my computer at home was something I could actually ‘allow myself’ this summer. In my L1-s the same word means ‘allow’ and ‘afford’: дозволити (doz-vo-ly-ty, Ukrainian), позволить (poz-vo-lit’, Russian). In a way, I could have afforded a vacation earlier, but could only allowed it to myself this year. I did have trips before, but they combined work and pleasure (I would be still running Skype meetings with people, facilitate online course discussions, do some writing, e-mail, etc.) As you notice, I repeatedly state that I love my job, and can’t live without it. All I am saying now that I see how ‘loving my job’ and ‘having time off and away’ do not contradict each other.

This time my husband and I went to a small town in the Ukrainian Carpathian mountains and did a lot of walking, talking and hiking, coffee and wine drinking, reading and dreaming. We were noticing small things around us: the speed with which the clouds moved, the beauty of the flowers, the sounds of birds, the smell of the grass… I took more pictures than usual and was able to catch much more moments of stillness (most likely because I was able to pause, focus and wait for the right time to take a picture?)

 

 

Conclusions, lessons learned and reminders? Very simple: allow myself to have free time. Time for thinking, breathing, living. Time off, away and unplugged!

What are/were your important lessons this summer? 

Thank you for reading! 🙂

P.S. This post was inspired by Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness and Erling Kagge’s ‘Silence in the Age of Noise‘.

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Reflective Group Meeting Topics 2017-18

Using the summer break to get organized and ready for the coming academic year includes reflecting on the monthly RPG meetings we had in 2017-18. Last year I shared a post describing our topics from 2016-17 which you can read here.

The plan for the last year had been to stay within one theme, and we came up with ONE‘ as such a connecting idea. To highlight the importance of learning from our own experience, from a single moment, experience, interaction, etc. In reality, not all the meetings had a clear focus on ‘ONE’. I am sharing all the topics below, with a brief summary or questions we discussed.

Literally reflective picture 🙂

A New School Year

We talked about the important aspects of a new academic year for each member, the areas of professional interest and possible learning goals for the whole year. You can read more about that meeting in the post here.

One Colleague

We talked about the people we (had) worked with or were still working with; people from whom we learned a lot, or a little; people who had left a mark on our hearts as teachers or humans. People we mentioned were: a critical friend, a buddy, someone who always disagrees, a difficult colleague, etc.

The meeting’s important result was expressing gratitude to the teaching community we were a part of, and to the specific people our teaching path had/has brought us to.

One Book

The session description said the following:

We are all reading: ELT and beyond, fiction and non-fiction, any language. Which book was important for you this year? Which one would you like to re-read, and why? If you can, bring the book or its picture.

Possible reflection before the session:
Quotes from the book I chose
What I realized after reading the book
How I can apply it
Who I will/might/could give the book to

The discussion was wonderful: none of the books members brought were from or on ELT (among many, I remember two books about parenting, one on Time Management, one on mindfulness, and a couple of fiction stories). At the same time, each book brought something new to the teaching parts of our identities. I wonder if this session can be repeated yearly and still be interesting?

Language Learning and Acquisition

The main pre-session questions were ‘What is the difference between learning a language and acquiring it?’ and ‘What are some ways to promote language acquisition [in the classroom]?’

One Context, Culture, Working Space

These were the pre-meeting questions for the attendees:

  • How do these shape your teaching style?
  • When/If they change, how does (would) your teaching change?
  • How might being aware of them impact your teaching?

You can read more about that meeting in the post here

Livening up the Process

It started with this blog post and turned into #liveninguptheprocesschallenge on Twitter and on my presentation on Teacher Training Day in Kyiv which I later reflected on here.

The questions and task before the session:

What do you bring to class (in your bag/pocket/tray/box)? Bring these items in, or take a picture
How do you use those objects during the lesson?
How do they help your students’ learning?
How do they help you?

Teacher’s Personality and Heated Discussions

Pre-session questions were the following:
What personal qualities help you be an effective teacher? 
What would you like to develop or improve? 
When you’re having some controversial discussion with your students, how much of your personality should there be in it? (or should you just stay a facilitator/moderator/observer?)
What has your experience been?

One activity I tried this year

A classical swap-shop format of the session allowed everyone to participate and contribute. Everyone said ‘yes’ to the questions asked before the meeting (see below) and came prepared to share!
Have you tried any new (classroom) activity that you’re going to keep on using?
Do you use any digital tools in your teaching? Have you tried any new technology trick(s) this year?

One ELT event

In this final meeting of the year we made a list of all ELT events attended (including webinars, conferences, training courses, etc.) and reflected on the learning from them. The cards in the image below show the structure of the meeting and what we focused on.

We were also brainstorming ideas on which events to attend in the coming year, and… possibly organizing a mini-conference in our city. Let’s see what we are up to after the summer break! 🙂

Final thoughts and notes

  1. It is amazing to know that we have already had sixteen (!) meetings as a Reflective Practice Group
  2. In the past school year, I personally ran only 4 meetings , 4 were prepared and delivered by the other members, and 1 was ‘facilitator-less‘. 
  3. On August 23 we are co-presenting in Kyiv and sharing our passion and commitment to reflection. The topic is ‘Alternative Ways to Develop as a Teacher’. Hopefully, there will be more similar groups in the other cities in Ukraine. Wish us good luck! 🙂
  4. My endless gratitude and appreciation goes to the colleagues and friends who are either running similar groups at the moment, or initiated them in the past. You responded to my numerous questions, helped with topics and ideas, and simply encouraged to try and keep going. I feel great celebrating the reflective practice bonds and professional friendships we have.
  5. And… thank you, the readers, for listening, commenting and simply being there, on the other side of my public reflective journey on this blog. 
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Reflective Metaphors: Water

Reflective Metaphors are on my mind again. I wrote a couple of posts about them (please check here and here) It is summer, and it is hot. Water helps to cool down and feel the flow of new ideas.

Water reflects images and light, but you can only see the reflection if the water is still.

If the water is still, you can see the reflection.

Can the water be still but the clouds get so thick that visibility and reflection get close to zero? Could be. That’s when I recommend ‘separating’ the feelings/emotions from the description of facts (data collection) as a part of the reflective thinking process.

 

 

Now, the water can be still but it could too hard to get closer to the point where you can see clearly. Well, that’s why you may need to learn how to choose the key moment to reflect on (and/or choose the ‘lens’ of your reflection, the angle from which you will be looking at what happened)

Choose the lens for reflecting.

You can also scaffold yourself towards easier reflective process (by answering specific questions in writing, and/or talking to a colleague willing to listen,and/or journaling your initial thoughts, etc.)

 

 

 

With time and practice, you will learn to ‘zoom in’ towards specific moment/task/activity in the lesson you are looking back to, and the details of it will be vivid in your memory allowing to be ‘in action’ again and to ‘play back’ what was happening.

 

 

 

And then… the River of Experience will bring you to new places. The flow is rarely smooth and easy, as the wind, the stones, and many more unpredictable factors get in the way. There will be another calm moment for thinking and reflecting some time in the future. You will know when it finds you…

The river of experience…

What would you add to the Water Metaphors of Reflection?

Thank you for reading, and Bon Voyage!

 

All the images above were taken last summer in Daegu, South Korea, during my morning runs (Suseong Lake and Sincheon River)

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50 words (2015-2018)

If you have been following this blog for some time you may remember my idea to share some teacher-training and learning-related ideas in 50-word chunks. I used to have a page of those thoughts to catch. I am now making changes on the blog and decide to remove the page. All its content, however, will be kept here as a single (and very long!) post.


Bonus: this is another 50-word piece about the process of writing I found on my computer. It is not related to teaching or training, just describes some feelings I had on a specific night.

1:55 a.m.

Clicking and checking social media accounts.

Mindless? Furious? Hopeful? Desperate?

Lonely, perhaps.

Breathe…

2:57 a.m.

Writing time: hopes, dreams, goals, plans, action, flow, joy, result, reflection. Start all over again.

Loneliness, perhaps.

Breathe…

3:59 a.m.

Reading, word counting, spell checking, formatting, re-reading, deleting.

Publishing!

Breathe… go to bed!

What’s the time? Coffee time 🙂


50 Words: Introducing the Idea

Have you ever heard of ’50-word stories’ (or mini-sagas)? Do you like the genre of ‘micro’-writing? Well, I do. To me personally, it started a long time ago, when I first saw the lesson on this topic in English Files Upper-Intermediate course book (old edition). My students created their own sagas, and they were even published in the school newspaper at that time – but that’s not the point now.

The authors used the idea from The Telegraph’s competition (you can follow this link for some examples) and it made me start my search. I was surprised to find out that this is a popular idea even in the world outside an ELT classroom: you can enter an on-going competition and even win a prize, you can try it as a creative writing exercise, or can simply enjoy reading them (and even buy a book of those stories!)

I also found out that this genre of writing can have a lot of titles: flash-fiction, micro-fiction, ‘smoke long’ story, ‘palm-sized’ story, micro narrative, micro-story, and even sudden fiction.

You might be wondering why I am writing all this on my blog. Well, did I already say that I really like the idea? I would like to ‘play’ with it for some time and add a ‘Teacher Training’ twist to the 50-word writing.

50-word writing…

… is longer than a Tweet (but fits into a Facebook status update), requires less structure than Haiku or Tanka, is (much?) shorter than a blog post, takes no time to read, leaves a lot of space to share an idea…

The big attractive part to me is that I can use this (safe and comfortable) learning space as my ‘idea catching’ tool, and this might eventually grow into longer posts, and hopefully, many more conversations and comments (keeping them to 50 words is not a must — but I promise to reply in at least about 50 words)

Why 50 words? Recently I have been involved in various writing projects and found it hard to be writing more for pleasure. Thoughts come and go, they need to be ‘caught’. Even as short as 50 words, such pieces should still allow me reflect and develop.

What would ‘my fifty’ include? Thoughts and notes related to observation, feedback, planning and running input sessions, assessment, people skills, time management, scheduling, and many other sides from the life of a teacher trainer/educator. These will be my own beliefs, examples, theories, questions (and more questions!), some answers, some doubts and a lot of reflection.

I started collecting my 50-word-notes in December 2015. I sometimes get back to the idea, but less and less often, so let them all sit peacefully in this post.


Attitude to [peer] observation? I like the ‘Blind Men and an Elephant‘ story/metaphor: the 3-6 men touch a part of the elephant, and to each it seems to be a different animal. To have a complete picture, they need each other’s input. Just like teachers need each other in class.

(Cheating with a quote today) ‘Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time’. – Betty Smith. Very true for a training course and observing new teachers: need to appreciate their ideas and style, their first steps and discoveries. Pass this to them!

Belief: A good teacher- and trainer-trainer needs to be caring and sensitive on a personal level, but demanding professionally. This preserves rapport and trust, encourages mutual feedback, supports growth. The hardest part is balance: how do you know that neither side is ‘overweighing’? By applying the same principle to yourself!

Advice to teachers? Pause to look back at the lesson you have just taught, or are teaching right now: ‘Did your students learn anything? Have they been engaged? Motivated? How do you know? How can you help them more?’ Write down the answers. Repeat daily. Magic is on the way!

Understanding a participant, or student, on a personal level – and then responding to their professional or learning needs will be easier. To understand, listen. To listen, stop talking or planning. Wear ‘Positive Regard’ hat and open your heart to this person. Obvious, but is not (always) easy to do.

KASA: Knowledge, Awareness, Skill and Attitude. Only Awareness is educable part, whereas knowledge and skills can be ‘taught’, if awareness is there. Attitude? Can we teach it? Can we only self-learn it? Gain it? Discover? Can Attitude ‘spoil’ our KAS? Or influence it, turn the learning process into enjoyable journey?

Silence in class: good, bad, desired, avoided? As a trainer, how much time do I give to the participants to think and listen (to themselves, each other, me?) How do I feel when they are quiet? How do they feel when there is a pause? Some answers are coming soon-ish…

Activity on silence: for five minutes, stop talking to think about something that has been in the center of your attention. No talking, or writing, just thinking about these questions: What do you think about this topic? What can you do about it? (Can also be a language learning activity!)

Reflective, Processing or Debriefing question for a training session: How do the skills required in this [game/activity/task] apply to our [class/training/course]? What would you like to remember and possibly try in your own courses? What would you need to change so that it worked for your learners? And then repeat.

Heard about but have not tried on a course myself: a group learning journal. Low-tech version: one notebook for the group, participants take turns and write important insights, a-ha!s, questions. Higher-tech: a blog or wiki space with the same idea. Wondering how anonymity can be kept if done online. Thinking…

Thinking about (portable) IWBs/Smart Boards/Interactive Boards. What makes them interactive? Attractive? Advertised? What can they do that a projector with a laptop/tablet can’t? Do they help learning, teaching, training? Are we using them for educational reasons, or for ‘business’ reasons? Are we being honest with the students and their parents?

What deadlines do you set to the course participants on an intensive course? I am thinking to try these: hard ones (those we can’t change, e.g. Practice Teaching slots); firm ones (important for a certain reason, e.g. Written reflective Papers); floating ones (flexible, such as reading for portfolio). ‘Non-deadline’ tasks?

Reminder to self: keep a record of individual participant performance on a course. Can be handwritten, or a soft copy, or shared document online. Written daily, or weekly, or for mid-point assessment, these notes are priceless. Even more so at the end of the course for the final evaluations/ reports.

These notes can be on the main course competencies, for example, on Planning, Teaching and Reflecting/Self-Assessment skills, on abilities to work in groups. Have tried this on Google Docs/Drive in the past. Pro: easy access for all. Con: need Internet to access (can you believe that it is not everywhere?)

What role do questions play in your training classroom? Who asks them? Who are they addressing? How do you treat the ‘right answer’ idea? What do you do if you have a different, or even opposite opinion, attitude, belief? Is asking (critical) questions a skill, a gift, a necessity? Thoughts?

Co-teaching, co-training, co-planning, co-creating… Seems like this prefix ‘co-‘ has a potential to save us from the notorious ‘teacher burnout‘. Have you ever co-trained or co-taught? How did it feel? In fact, training ‘solo’ might be much more challenging experience than the ‘co-‘ time. What are your favorite co-training tips?

Guided lesson planning versus Assisted lesson planning: how can a trainer help a participant to become really independent within the limits of an intensive course? How can a mentor promote teacher independence without risking the students’ potential learning too much? Possibly by gradual reduce of scaffolding and maintaining positive regard.

In addition to Assisted lesson planning there could also be a term describing being there to answer questions and brainstorm ideas on a future lesson but at the same time being one step away from making the major lesson decisions for a teacher. Learning how to think independently while planning…

If D. Eisenhower was a teacher, he might have agreed that in preparing for a lesson ‘plans are useless, but planning is indispensable’. Focus on the process of planning, not the plan/form. Shift thinking into the students and their learning, and how the time can be used to help more.

Teacher post-lesson self-talk: Is what you are telling yourself true? Are you being helpful by saying these things to yourself? Are you being fair to say these things? Would anyone else give you this feedback? Are you your harshest critic? How many yes-es do you have? Thoughts? Conclusions? Great read.

My professional mission ‘pyramid’ is something like this: help to bring out the best in teacher trainers/educators, so that they could bring out the best in teachers and so that teachers could keep doing the same for their students. The shorter version would be: ‘inspired teachers inspire learners and learning’.

This image finds me in such a nice time! I am wondering about the 4 areas (passion, mission, profession and vocation) and how teacher training for me is reflected in all. Answers all the questions about the reasons to wake up in the morning. Is it only on a course?

This post is about brainstorming meetings, but the tips seem to be working well for a group lesson planning session on a TT course, especially the idea of keeping a record of lesson ideas and activities for later. My favorite quote says: ‘unstructured brainstorming meeting is an offense to creativity’.

Learning of this morning: the SAMR model as a framework for mobile learning by Ruben Puentedura (2006). Technology use falling into the four classes: substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. The final part is about tasks that could not have been done without the use of the technology. Application in training?

Read this small post by Seth Godin on ‘I, We and You’ and noticed a good formulae for a teacher trainer (for me!): ‘we’ is for receiving positive feedback as a team, ‘I’ is for taking in critical feedback, and ‘You’ for giving feedback (to participants or peers) Simple, powerful!

A possible logical routine on a course for setting assignments to write. Monday homework: an assignment description to read. Tuesday in class: explain the assignment, answer participants’ questions. Friday evening: deadline for assignments (with possible extension for Sat morning). Saturday and Sunday is trainer reading/grading/responding time. I like the idea.

Have realized how important public speaking skills are for a (new) trainer. Oftentimes entering a room with other teachers (not students) makes a huge difference. These little things matter: making (and keeping) a pause, maintaining eye contact, varying the pace and volume of speaking, handing difficult questions with confidence, etc.

‘What should I do if I want to become a teacher trainer?’ is a question I hear from time to time. My answer in one word? ‘Experience’ (refers to do something in order to help other teachers). Do you feel how patronizing ‘train’ teachers sound? I prefer ‘serve’ or ‘educate’.

‘What can I read about trainer knowledge and skills?’ I think this blog post by Tony Gurr is a good starting point: offers resources and ideas on various trainer skills. I think to me being a trainer is much more than knowing how to teach well. People skills come first.

Lesson plan as a form, or lesson planning as a process? I really believe that it is a process: of thinking, or anticipating (and catering for) potential challenges, of ‘what if-s’ and questions. It is much more than a (final?) form or a piece of paper. Planning weighs (means) more.

Thinking about successful co-training partnerships in my experience: working with someone, not for, not around, not against, is very important, and exciting, and full of learning. I am wondering how the same co-working strategies can be transferred to the life outside a training course. Looking for a like-minded partner. Connect.

I am not sure who the author of these words is: ‘How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you’. What I am sure about is that SIT TESOL Certificate course for teachers I have run in many places around the world will definitely uplift you. Watch.

Teacher and Trainer learning/thinking/reflecting cycle starts from choosing a significant moment. Giving background, or context. Description in detail (or telling a story). Analyzing the reasons, and the Learning from the experience, form ‘meaning making’ part. Action points and future decisions, or intentions to act, finish the cycle. Experiential Learning Cycle.

Inspiring iTDI Blog’s The Newbie Issue  motivated me to accept a professional challenge, and run my first ever training session in my L1. It is for teachers of languages other than English, and we all share the same mother tongue (Russian). Might write about my preparation, doubts and questions soon.

The session will include two of my L1s (yes, this exists!): Russian as the main communication language, and Ukrainian as an example/demo lesson for all the group. Culture note: Dnipro is one of mostly Russian-speaking cities in our country, and Ukrainian language skills are somewhat behind (especially speaking and writing)

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Freelancer Thoughts about Writing ‘Something’

I was asked if I have a ‘formulae’ to my writing days. Having thought about it for some time, here is my list of routines. I don’t do them all in one day (in theory, it may be possible). ‘Writing Days’ are the days when I am not actively training on a course or consulting. Such days include…

  • something challenging (e.g. producing a new piece of writing, an activity, etc.)
  • something focused (e.g. editing a piece of writing)
  • something familiar where it is clear what needs to be done (e.g. responding to online course forum discussions, marking written assignments, etc.)
  • something new/creative (e.g. outlining a new course or session outline)
  • something administrative (business e-mails, file organizing, paperwork, etc.)
  • something promo/marketing-related (e.g. getting in touch with a client, updating a profile, searching for new projects, etc.)
  • something receptive (e.g. reading/research/listening/watching to gain new ideas)
  • something for professional development (e.g. a webinar, blogging, social media)
  • something social (e.g. a Skype meeting with a colleague, a message to friends, lunch with a (potential) client, etc.)
  • something physical (e.g. running, working out, walking)
  • coffee (should have been number 1)

 

I added and then deleted ‘something for myself’ and ‘something for my family’ (and did not include any chores into the list above), trying to focus on the professional side of things. You may wonder why ‘working out’ got to the list above… Well, the whole categorizing idea is very subjective. Also, I now see that some categories overlap, e.g. ‘receptive’ often become the ‘PD’ time I have, etc.

Another ingredient is preparing for, or actually doing something ‘active‘: piloting that creative session I was working on, presenting (online or face-to-face), facilitating a reflective group meeting, etc.

When it is more of one and less of the other I get tired and feel a huge productivity decrease. Having the idea of ‘activity switch’ in mind is helpful and works for me. Sometimes the same project transforms itself into another category: starting as something challenging turns into a creative and exciting activity. Sometimes, however, it is the other way round, and that could a topic of a new post about choosing my projects wisely 🙂

Sometimes I am on an intensive course and none of the above is relevant. Sometimes, however, there are times off (or quiet times between projects)so that I can find the time for writing posts like this one!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Feelings and Reflective Practice

If you have been reading posts on this blog you may know my passion towards reflective practices  and using the Experiential Learning Cycle as a tool to reflect on the lessons or sessions or presentations (or any life experience, actually) and to give and receive feedback. This post is about feelings and emotions and their (possible) place in the reflective cycle. I have been meaning to write about this for a long time and now have a collection of notes and ideas for it. It may grow longer than one post, but for now, I would like to get started.

Brief background: on the courses for teachers and trainers I run the experiential learning cycle (or reflective cycle) is used to help teachers think back about the lessons taught or observed and make purposeful changes for the future teaching or training. The five stages of the cycle can be briefly summarized in the image below.

As you see from the title of this post, I’d like to add Feelings/Emotions into the picture.

Before answering the ‘Where?’ and ‘How?’ questions let’s turn to ‘What?’. Not going deep into defining feelings and emotions from the psychological point of view, I will simply say that the word ‘feelings’ in this post will be used in the meaning of ‘an emotional state or reaction’. You can read more about it here.

Where would we acknowledge our feelings or emotional reactions to what was happening in the lesson? Would we at all? I see more than one option of working with the Cycle.

Option 1: Separating the Feelings from the Cycle

In many courses I have run we had a simple form for a teacher to complete before the feedback session. It always started with a question: ‘How did you feel?’ and sometimes added a ‘sub-question’: How were you feelings before the lesson? When it already started? During the lesson? Afterwards (at the moment of completing the form?’)

The reflective cycle questions that followed offered the teacher to decide on the ‘key moments’ to reflect on and do so as objectively as possible putting the feelings aside and focusing on facts (supporting ideas by examples of student behavior, reactions, questions, etc.) Asking teachers to stay objective I compare the description with a snapshot of a camera or a video clip, where we can see the objects and people but not the ‘feelings’.

Advantage of option 1: teachers become aware of the feelings that they have (had), at the same time stick to a descriptive/objective/analytical tone of reflecting. They learn to separate ‘facts’ (data, evidence) from ‘opinion’. It is especially important for experienced teachers on a course, whose expectations and personal standards are very high, and whose feelings about ‘not meeting’ those standards are sometimes stronger than the awareness of how the lesson objective was or was not achieved by students. Newer teachers, on the other hand, may get very preoccupied about their ‘performance’ in the classroom and can’t even notice students’ reactions or questions (e.g. ‘I don’t know what the students were saying/doing, as I was too nervous about my next activity’)

Besides, some educational cultures are stricter/more critical to ‘making mistakes’ for language learners and teachers, so the fear of ‘doing something wrong’ may be on the way to noticing what was actually going on in the lesson. Helping such teachers ‘switch’ from their own feelings and thoughts into observing what the students were doing and how they are learning makes a huge difference in their teaching and planning.

Option 2: Adding Feelings to the Description part

Here the teacher reflecting on his/her lesson taught is asked to describe a key moment’ and while describing it, name the feelings s/he was experiencing. Some of my colleagues divide this part into two: describing what happened outside (in the real world, in class) and inside (in one’s mind, or heart).

In the Analysis (Interpretation) part that follows teachers would ask themselves about the possible reasons for feeling that way, and offering multiple solutions to the challenges faced.

Option 3: Adding Needs and Feelings stage to the Cycle

This stage can be added between the Description an Analysis stages, and feelings and needs of the teacher and students can be reflected on. This way, the feelings are closer to the Analysis stage to me, as we can only describe our own feelings (if we can!) and we can only guess how the others were feeling from the observable clues in the classroom. This, in turn, brings us back to the Description stage of the cycle. Centro Espiral Mana resource can illustrate what I am talking about.

Advantage of options 2 and 3: feelings are invited ‘into play’ and are taken into consideration with attention and care. Can be especially important if a course for teachers also focuses on such practices as self-compassion, mindfulness, self-care, fighting burnout, etc.

I can see something in common about all the three options above: they help teachers become aware of the feelings/emotions, to notice and acknowledge them. As Daniel J. Siegel wrote in ‘Midnight’, ‘inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them’.

Our choice of which option to go for may depend on several factors, such as the nature of the course we are applying the cycle on (intensive or extended? for new or experienced teachers?), teachers’ personality and confidence in reflection, the group of students (and how strong the feelings were about the lesson taught), the reason for observation and feedback, the relationship and trust between the observer and the teacher being observed (and the degree of openness they have to each other on a personal level), and even the time available for a feedback session.

How do you feel about the clouds in the sky? So much depends on the context: summer or fall? Hot or cold? Longing for a rain, or for some sunshine?

 

Final Thoughts and Notes (and questions to self and reader)

Seems like feelings/emotions/needs themselves can become a lens for reflective analysis? For example, teacher’s feelings towards specific student (or a group of students?) or his/her attitude to a specific type of task, to the course book s/he is using, or even to the process of being observed?

Emotions (in the meaning of ‘strong feelings deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others’) may be (discovered as) the result of reflective process, and in this case, become a part of Generalizations a teacher comes up with. 

Emotions and feelings referred to in this post were mostly negative (self-criticism, anxiety, self-judgement, etc.) I wonder about the positive ones and their role in choosing the key moment to reflect on? For example, feeling proud and happy for the student(s) achievement? Being excited about a new idea or experiment? 

As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

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