Awareness

Awareness is a slippery word. Attempts to pin it down and explain it can cause long intervals of staring out the window – as I can attest to.

A basic premise of this book project is that we can make changes only when we see and understand what needs to be changed. And we can thoughtfully decide not to make changes only when we’re aware of the issues involved. True awareness needs to be rooted in experience and in noticing what’s going on in the classroom. True awareness comes out of paying attention to our teaching, our students, and the interactions that happen in the classroom.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the only thing that teachers can do is raise awareness. We can present important and useful vocabulary to students and point out their grammar mistakes and errors, but we can’t make students learn that vocabulary or correct their errors.

Awareness leads to the possibility (first steps!) of change or no change, learning or no learning.

“Only awareness is educable.” Caleb Gattegno

What in the quote speaks to you? What do you see as the essential truth captured in the quote? (present)

As a language teacher and teacher educator I often think about the impact that I will have on my students or on the participants in teacher training courses that I’ve worked on.

What will they take from it? What kind of impact can I have on them? What impact do I want to have on them? I’ve often felt that there’s something quite ephemeral about language teaching. The moments when we’re working in the classroom are real and concrete, but once the door opens and everyone leaves what are we left with? Maybe a word or phrase that the students understand more clearly – and probably not all the students. That everyone is working on something different is one of my teaching beliefs.

As language teachers, we can only make our students aware of something (a grammar point, pronunciation tips, vocabulary meanings) but we cannot make them use the grammar correctly, speak with proper pronunciation, or remember the meaning of the vocabulary they encountered. That is their responsibility.

How does it confirm what you know to be true about teaching and learning? What is one experience you can point to in your teaching that this quote helps to explain or shed light on? (past)

One thing I know to be true is that I can’t change anyone except for myself (and it’s often quite difficult to change myself!)

I certainly could see that in the private group lessons that I taught for over a decade. Although I regularly explained vocabulary usage and grammar points and wrote sentences on the board correcting errors, those errors were repeated. The students enjoyed the lessons and thought that what we were doing was valuable. They took copious notes. And they repeated the same errors again and again.

So in one sense this idea takes pressure off of me – yes, as the teacher I’m responsible to plan lessons that serve the needs of the students and help them gain the fluency and accuracy that they need to achieve their language learning goals. But, I’m not the only one who has a responsibility in the classroom. The students are responsible to take what we’ve studied in the lesson and make it their own.

How can this quote inform your future teaching experiences? (future)

I will continue to use it as a guiding principle for planning learning experiences both in regular language classrooms and in teacher training courses.

I will do my best to plan interesting and useful lessons and workshops. When I give lessons I will work to make it clear to the students or participants why what we’re focusing on is important and useful. I will help them make connections between what they already know and what we’re studying. And I will keep in mind that the students and participants have the responsibility to internalize what we’ve studied if it’s something that they want to remember.

 

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