Friday, 27 July 2012

Outstanding Teaching-Be the Best You can Be
Everybody wants to be outstanding, these days. The problem is that outstanding is, by definition, supposed to apply to a minority. This does not mean that we need to lower our sights. As we are human beings with fluctuating emotions and energy levels, the challenge of consistently being the best we can be should be the first step to get there. 

Considering key qualities to develop, I would aim to show:
*Enthusiasm-If we are not enthusiastic, who else is going to be?
*Expertise-As in "knows what they are talking about" but certainly not as in "fount of all knowledge". I believe that experts are people who are aware of the limits as well as the depth of their knowledge. As learning is never-ending, experts are only credible to me if they display some humility.
*Empathy-Understanding students and relating to them, being able to reach out for them-not making excuses for them.
*Ability to make students think for themselves and develop their independence-My aim is to enable students to be lifelong learners of languages and many other things...
*Ability to take risks and encourage students to take risks with their learning by creating an environment where making mistakes is something we all learn from.

My 2 main priorities would be:
to promote active engagement, where student co-operation supports the development of their learning skills and subject content knowledge, rather than just focus on student enjoyment that can be passive and just linked to content rather than skills.

to decrease my amount of "teacher talk"-start with 60/40 and aim for 80/20. Although students need to develop good listening skills, they can be doing that listening to other people than me. I feel this is very challenging for languages teachers as over-reliance on teacher talk and "over-modelling" is a traditional teaching default mode. So, how can we share lingustic input with our students in a different way?

For Listening and Speaking, developing students' knowledge of phonic patterns is essential. This needs to be taught systematically and in context, especially for more phonetically irregular languages like Enlish or French. It works quicker for more regular languages like Spanish or Italian and can make students feel a real sense of achievement as they can try to pronounce new words independently without entirely relying on the teacher. Using transcripts, making students compare what they hear to what is in front of them e.g. differences between audio and transcript, silent letters etc... also really helps students linking what they hear to the written word.

For Reading and Writing, training students to make effective use of resources such as dictionaries, verb tables and textbooks is key. Getting them to work in pairs or small groups can also help them to develop resilience as well as more general reading and writing strategies.

As regards developing student use of the Target Language, my view is that this can only be linked to speaking for a real purpose and I am planning to give students more opportunities to do this in class in a structured way. I feel these speaking activities are more likely to be successful if students are already starting to develop their independence as linguists. Students will then be able to manipulate better the language they know and make better use of resources at their disposal to find out independently the language they need to say what they want to say.

And what about being able to discuss and demonstrate progress in students' learning?

Many key elements to consider are linked with Assessment  for Learning:
*Effective learning objectives/ success criteria
*Effective questioning
*Peer and self assessment
*Reflection and self evaluation with students settig their own targets
*Verbal and written feedback from teacher and other students

Some tools like visualisers, flip cameras and mini whiteboards can help, but it is all about embedding their use in our classroom routines to make it more effective.

If traffic lights are used for mini-plenaries, rather than just focusing on whether students are red, amber or green on a specific objective, asking them why they think they are red, amber or green might reveal more about what they learnt in the lesson.

Likewise, comments from teachers and peers in students' books need to be refined and thought through in terms of impact on students' learning. Are the comments understood? What actions have been taken by the students to show they understood and acted upon the comments?
And more importantly... When have the students been given the time to respond to the comments? 

The more I think about it, the more obvious it seems to me that outstanding teaching is a journey rather than a destination. If we want students to grow as learners, it is only fair we tried to do the same through our practice.      

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