I-Thou-It

Framework, noun; the basic structure of something : a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something (From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/framework)

Frameworks are useful tools for organizing our ideas and beliefs about teaching and learning. Without a framework for reference, we can find ourselves with a random collection of beliefs that don’t seem all that connected with each other. A framework provides a system for organizing and testing our beliefs. It can also serve as a way to share with others what you’re thinking and doing.

One of the basic frameworks that I’ve used since being introduced to it in my master’s program is David Hawkins’ “I-Thou-It.” This framework focuses on the three main elements in the classroom: “I” is the teacher, “Thou” are the students, and the subject matter is “It.”

“I, Thou, and It – a three-way relationship in which “I and Thou” are the people (often a teacher and child, though not always) and “It” is the content that compels both.” 

“Without a Thou, there is no I evolving. Without an It there is no context, no figure and no heat, but only an affair of mirrors confronting each other.”

Both quotes by David Hawkins and found at: http://hawkinscenters.org/exhibitmu/i-thou-it

One of the reasons why this simple framework is so important for me is that Hawkins envisioned it as a way to show that each element needs the other in order for learning to occur. The teacher needs her students to evolve and grow as a teacher. The students need the teacher to help them learn and both sides need an It, the subject matter, to provide the context for the learning. It is simple, but not simplistic.

One way this framework has been helpful for me has been as a graphic representation of different methods or styles of teaching. For example, the following could represent a teacher-centered class where all access to the subject matter is controlled by the teacher.

Thou ————– I ————– It

Maybe this could represent a student-centered classroom?

I ————– Thou ————– It

For me these models (and the teaching theories they represent) are limited because they cannot contain all of the learning that is happening in the classroom.

The following illustration reflects my belief that all of the learning that occurs in the classroom, in the interactions between the teacher, students, and material, is of primary importance.

0001N8

Graphic organizer

When I wrote out my teaching philosophy recently, I used a mind map based on the “I-Thou-It” frame to brainstorm my ideas about teaching and learning.

The first section is “I”, or the teacher, not because it’s the most important, but because the teacher must know and understand herself before she can truly deal with the other two.

When brainstorming I focused on questions like these. Who is the “I” that teaches? Who are my students (my “Thou”) that I’m working with? What is the “It” that we’ve gathered to focus on?

phil mindmap pic

 After my brainstorming I didn’t edit the mind map but simply used it to explore the ideas and topics that had been generated. Even now, two months later, there are things that I’d probably add or change if I was to do this again. But it’s useful to have this mind map as a refection of my thinking when I was working on my assignment.

This is the first in a series of posts on frameworks. In future posts I will examine each aspect of the I-Thou-It framework more closely.

*****

What does your model of I-Thou-It look like?

What would you include in a graphic organizer about your teaching philosophy based on this framework?

Teaching philosophy, part 3 – exploring quotes

“Students aren’t interested in your teaching philosophy, but whether they can trust you with their noviceness in English.” Deryn Verity

Deryn said this at a JALT (Japan Association of Language Teaching) Executive Board Meeting a number of years ago. At least I’m pretty sure she said it because I wrote it down in my notes from that meeting. Afterwards in an email I asked her whether she did say this and she replied:

Well, actually, I have no idea, but this sounds like something I would say, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else say it. This is how I conceive of Vygotskyan theory within my own teaching practice–how can I use theory to make sense of what happens in my classroom, without getting too theoretical?

…so I guess I’ll take credit for saying it…

I’ve kept this sentence in my teaching journal since then and usually pause and think about it whenever I come across it.

 

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

What is a teaching philosophy for but to guide you in your day-to-day classroom practice? It’s a kind of road map with the ultimate destination of guiding students to reach their goals. Student learning and improvement is always the goal. But this is from the teacher’s perspective.

From the students’ perspective things look quite different. When we study a language we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. As with learning anything new, we can’t improve our skills without making mistakes. Of course this is true with any new skill that we learn, but language is for communication and self-expression. It’s challenging to give a true account of our thoughts and feelings when we’re communicating in a new language.

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 of the most important things in my classes has been establishing security for my students. When they feel secure they know that they will not be judged when they make errors. They also know that their contributions will be accepted and valued, and the knowledge and ability of the others in the classroom shouldn’t be seen as threatening to them. They will be treated with absolute positive regard.

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

I will continue to revise and develop my teaching philosophy as I reflect on my teaching and teacher training experiences. I can do this by balancing a self-confident attitude with the knowledge that I am also a learner.

As teachers we can have confidence in our abilities and know that we can do a good job and help our students reach their goals. We are doing the best we can with the knowledge and skills that we have right now. But that doesn’t mean that we have nothing left to learn about teaching. Reflective teachers are continually learning  – about the subject matter, about our students, and about ourselves as teachers.

 

What inspires me?

Recently the participants on a teacher training course that was finishing up asked my co-trainers and I to share  our ideas for resources that sustain our energy and enthusiasm. In lieu of original content today (since nothing that has been simmering on the back burner seemed quite ready yet) I decided to repurpose what I wrote  for the teachers on our course.

One of the concepts that served us quite well on the course is talking about our different roles and identities as hats that we wear. The basic one is our human hat, but at different times we wear other hats, like our teacher hat and our supervisor, or trainer, hat. The resources are organized by those categories.

 

Wilma’s resources and inspiration

Human hat

Desert Island discs podcastshttp://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs (You can listen online or download the podcasts through iTunes.)

Guests chose eight songs that they would take to a desert island and are interviewed about their lives and careers. I really love listening to these interviews and learning about people from so many different walks of life.

Stationery stores – new notebooks, pens, post-it notes. For example, finding post-its in the shape of leafs (the day before our 2nd F2F started) directly led to thinking about and planning the wrap up session on the last day.

Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach  A wonderful book that combines two things I love – literature and teaching!

Movies about teaching – sometimes when you’re feeling discouraged about teaching and wondering if it’s time to try a different profession, an inspirational teacher movie can provide just the encouragement that you need. For me it’s more about realizing again that teaching is a worthwhile and important job, not in realizing that I’m such an inspirational teacher.

Dead Poet’s Society – a classic for many reasons.

Mr. Holland’s Opus – I love the message of how a teacher can have an impact on students’ lives without realizing it.

Finding Forrester – It’s mostly about writing but there are aspects connected to teaching as well.

Akeelah and the Bee – It’s about a girl who works/studies hard to become a champion in spelling bees. Great scenes between her and her coach.

 

Teacher hat

My own teaching journals – I like reading them again after several years. What’s still important to me? How have I changed or grown? What have I forgotten? What do I want to do differently this year?

Songs for listening lessons – Using music in the classroom (both background music & using songs as the focus of listening lessons) is something that’s important to me. Choosing songs with positive messages for the Ss also helped me (because I would have to listen to the songs over and over again!)

All of the youtube links below are to versions that include the lyrics.

Ordinary Miracle, by Sarah McLachlan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rweU-FFE6Ww One of my favourites. It has a great message about the things we often take for granted.

Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LanCLS_hIo4 The song that I’ve used the most and keep coming back to.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy, by Bobby McFerrin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou8hdqyCRBE This is a good song to start the semester with. I got tired of this song for a while and then started using it again.

The Rain Don’t Last, by Hope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL1zNDsq984 Kind of an obscure song, but it’s more contemporary and it also has a great message for students (along with some great idioms).

I Can See Clearly Now, by Johnny Nash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjJHkuabRYw This is another positive message song. Other singers have covered this song and might have versions that are clearer and easier to understand.

The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer. I can’t say enough about how this book has influenced me and how it gets to the heart of teaching and learning. It helped me to understand the connection between our beliefs about teaching and our classroom practice.

Working with Teaching Methods: What’s at Stake?  (a reworking of his classic “Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways”) by Earl Stevick

Earl Stevick’s ideas have influenced me quite a lot. This quote encapsulates what has become one of my most fundamental principles of teaching and training, “… success depends less on materials, techniques or linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom. … the most important aspect of “what goes on” is the presence or absence of harmony:  it is the parts working with, or against, one another.”

JALT (The Japan Association of Language Teaching)

When I lived in Japan I was quite involved in the Hokkaido chapter of this professional organization and helped with organizing monthly meetings and conferences. I also gave presentations and workshops both locally and at several national conferences.

I’ve taken online courses from various sources including ed2go.com. “Teaching ESL/EFL Reading” was quite useful and comprehensive. (But I just noticed that course prices have more than tripled since I took that course in 2006).

Onestopenglish.com This is a great resource for teaching ideas as well as discussions about teaching. A lot of the resources are available for free but there is much more available if you subscribe.

Conversations with other teachers – in the staff room before and after classes.

 

Trainer hat

Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities. by Robert Chambers. A really practical collection of ideas, for example “21 Ways of Forming Groups” and “21 Energizers.”

Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning, by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli. A useful combination of theory and practical ideas.

Articles by Carol Rodgers who writes about various aspects of reflective practice and teacher identity. Here’s a list of links to a number of her articles.

Conversations with other trainers – face to face and online. I’ve learned so much from the trainers that I’ve worked with over the years!

My training journals – yes, I have those too! I collect session ideas, quotes, notes on previous courses, notes on other trainers’ sessions, ideas for new sessions, good teaching/training practices. When I’m in need of inspiration or ideas it’s the first thing I go to. In the back of my journal I have a section with the names and/or pictures of all the teachers that I’ve worked with on courses over the years.

Teaching philosophy, part 2

 This is the second in a multi-part series (or maybe it will become a regular thread) about our teaching philosophy.

Why do you need a teaching philosophy?

Does the idea of a “teaching philosophy” feel a little pretentious or vague? (It does to me, actually.) Another way to think of our philosophy is that it is our beliefs about teaching and learning languages.

No matter whether you call it a philosophy or a collection of beliefs, what you think about teaching and learning languages informs your decisions about what to do in the classroom.

If you believe that students need to have fun and relax in order to improve their spoken English, then you will probably choose to play a lot of games and other fun activities.

If you believe that students can’t learn a language in one or two hours of class time each week, you might try to assign homework.

Two good reasons to be aware of your teaching philosophy:

  1. To provide guidance for making decisions in the classroom

Our teaching philosophy provides a touchstone for the many decisions that we as teachers have to make in each lesson. It is something to refer to during the entire cycle of lesson planning, teaching, looking back on the lesson, analyzing what went well and what didn’t go so well, and then deciding what to do next.

Although, for much of my career, I wasn’t always all that aware of what my teaching beliefs were, I did have reasons for planning my lessons the way that I did.

When I had students who were not all that motivated I usually switched activities more often so I could keep the students’ interest and attention.

In classes with more motivated students, we could spend more time on one activity and also use activities that relied on the students having done their homework (e.g. sharing vocabulary words that they had chosen to learn).

  1. To back up your decisions when someone questions what you’re doing in the classroom

Another reason why we need a teaching philosophy is so we can refer to it when our decisions are challenged.

If your principal or director of studies observed your teaching and criticized your lesson, what would you do? Would you be able to back up your choices with well-thought out reasons for making them? How about if a colleague asked you why you don’t use the textbook the way other teachers in your school use it? Would you be able to give a clear explanation for your methods?

Being able to explain your choices shows that you are a thoughtful and professional teacher.

A caveat

I think we need to hold our beliefs more loosely when we reflect on a lesson then when we’re planning a lesson. Every lesson is another experience and gives us more evidence to analyze. Holding on too tightly to our teaching beliefs can blind us to evidence that might disprove one or more of them.

Because of this, perhaps using the word “beliefs” is a good idea as it feels more flexible and less set in stone. Revising or replacing a teaching belief doesn’t mean that you have to dismantle your entire teaching philosophy. You can simply revise your belief about how many games to play in class or how much homework to assign.

I would think that every teacher who has more than a few years of experience does things differently than they did when they first started teaching.

Here are some basic questions to think about to get started on clarifying your teaching philosophy / beliefs.

Teacher

What is the role or responsibility of the teacher? What can or should I do for my students that they can’t do?

Students

What is the students’ role or responsibility? What can or should they do that I can’t do for them?

Subject

What have we come together to study? What is the most effective way for the students to study / learn it? What aspect of the material should we focus on?

 

 

 

Have you ever…?

          Tell me, what is it you plan to do

          with your one wild and precious life?

How’s this for a “have you ever..?” question – one that’s much too specific to be used on any questionnaire practicing the present perfect.

Have you ever really loved a quote and written it down and read it often and thought about it and then one day you saw it in its original context and realized that you’d misunderstood it all along? If so, this post is for you.

One of the gifts of this blogging project is how it’s given me the opportunity to look through my teaching journals and notes on reflective practice. I have been thinking over what I’ve written in the past and seeing connections that I hadn’t recognized before. And so my understanding of reflective practice is deepening.

As a lover of quotes I’ve seen and written out the following couplet by Mary Oliver numerous times.

          Tell me, what is it you plan to do

          with your one wild and precious life?

It’s a beautiful, compelling line that somehow always made me think of goal-setting, action plans, and bucket lists.

Time is short! Don’t waste it! Get stuff done! Write that book that you keep talking about! Get busy and change the world!

It’s a beautiful, compelling line that always stressed me out.

And then I reread the poem that the couplet comes from.

You can read it here: The Summer Day Take your time.

Better yet, listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16CL6bKVbJQ

 

As you can see, it turns out my interpretation was completely wrong.

Mary Oliver wasn’t talking about all the things she’d gotten done or how she’d changed the world or the exciting experiences that she’d had.

She was writing about paying attention. Paying attention. She is using her one wild and precious life to pay attention.

As I reread the poem I was struck by how what seems to be a rhetorical question, “Who made the grasshopper?” becomes so specific in the next line. “This grasshopper, I mean—” followed by a rich, detailed description of the insect on her hand. As she walked through the grass and spent her day in the field she paid attention to what she found there.

Language teaching has a lot of questions that are difficult to answer. How do students learn languages? How will they gain fluency? What’s the best way to teach English?

These kinds of questions can be paralyzing, until we turn to the specific. How does this student learn – the one sitting in the front row trying to answer all the questions? How about that guy in the back row who never does his homework? How about these two in the middle who are always chatting?

If you saw a woman kneeling in the grass feeding sugar to a grasshopper on her outstretched palm, would you say she was making good use of her wild and precious life?

If you saw a teacher watching and taking notes as her students hesitatingly talked about what they did on the weekend, would you say she was making good use of her wild and precious life?

I think they both are, if they’re truly paying attention.

 

Attitude – Directness

This is the second post in a series looking at the following essential attitudes for reflection:

Wholeheartedness, directness, open-mindedness, responsibility, curiosity, the desire for growth

(The first four were identified by John Dewey. The latter two were added to the list by Carol Rodgers.)

Directness

noun. straightness (trueness of course toward a goal) (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=directness)

Directness is explained by Carol Rodgers as “… not self-consciousness, distractedness, or constant preoccupation with how others perceive one’s performance. [But rather] an attitude of trust in the validity of one’s own experience without spending a lot of time worrying about the judgment of others…”

The attitude of directness reveals a key difference between reflection and self-absorption.

Self-conscious teachers are focused on themselves. What am I going to do in this lesson? Will I be able to get through this lesson? What do the students think of me?

Distracted teachers are very often thinking of the lesson plan. What are we going to do next? Do I have what I need for this activity? Do we have enough time for this? What will we do if there’s too much time?

Preoccupied teachers are worried about how they are perceived by their colleagues. What will the other teachers think of me when I tell them my ideas? What will they think of me if I tell them that I’m not sure how to teach these students? How can I tell them that I’m having a problem in this class?

Just think of all the “white noise” that these questions create when they’re rolling around in our minds! No wonder teachers can find it difficult to see what’s actually happening in the classroom.

The best way that I’ve found to cut through the noise of those questions and combat the self-doubt that creeps in with them is to simply pay attention to your students. What are they able to do or communicate? What are they having problems with? What are they learning?

These are not easy questions to answer. But questions like these are really the only important ones to be thinking about in the classroom. If what is important to you is student learning.

What did the students learn and how do I know they learned it?

I didn’t know how to answer this question when I first started reflecting on my teaching. I hadn’t yet developed the ability to really see the students and what they were working on. I didn’t have the “…attitude of trust in the validity of [my] own experience…” But I stuck with it and gradually learned how to turn my attention away from my self-absorption and my lesson plan and worrying about my colleagues. I became curious about my students and what was going on with them.

“What did the students learn and how do I know they learned it?” even became the basis for the action research project that I did for my master’s thesis. (Which doesn’t mean I’m an expert now, just that I learned a lot about how to recognize learning when it’s happening in front of me.)

Directness, noun. straightness “trueness of course towards a goal”

The reflective teacher’s true goal is the learning of their students. It’s the reason we’re in the classroom. Anything else is just white noise.

 

 

 

What’s your teaching philosophy?

What’s your teaching philosophy? Do you have one? Have you ever written it out? When was the last time you did so?

Being aware of your philosophy of teaching and learning can be quite helpful (should I say essential?) when reflecting on your teaching practice. A useful (and free!) tool to help you get started is the online Teaching Perspectives Inventory

Teaching Perspectives Inventory

The first time I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory was in 2005 when I was teaching as a part-time instructor at several universities in Sapporo, Japan. I had finished my MA in TESOL and had given several presentations at language teaching conferences, but hadn’t yet gotten into formal teacher training. The TPI helped me to understand myself as a teacher more clearly and I’ve recommended it to other teachers since then.

I took the TPI for a second time two months ago as part of an assignment for a course I was taking. Since I’m not teaching right now I used language teacher training as my context this time. This probably made a difference in the answers that I gave. And, of course, the eight years of classroom experience since first taking the TPI could also mean that the results might be somewhat different.

Basically the TPI consists of 45 questions that assess your “orientation to teaching.” After you’ve answered the questions you receive a profile based on your scores. The results are divided into three sub-scores of beliefs, intentions, and actions which can give an indication of how consistent you are in your teaching practice.

My results in the Teaching Perspectives Inventory

TPI Categories

2005 results

2013 results

Transmission

31

28

Apprenticeship

35

34

Developmental

30

38

Nurturing

41

38

Social Reform

26

29

When examining these results it’s useful to keep in mind that results under a score of 29 are considered recessive and scores over 38 are considered dominant.

The first time I took the test my highest score was a 41 in Nurturing. According to the explanation on the TPI website, teachers who score high in this category believe that: “Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head.” At that time I thought this was true for me and I still think so. It is not surprising that my score eight years later is still quite high at 38.

What’s more interesting to me is that my score in the Developmental category rose by eight points and is now a tie for the top place at 38. The description for the Developmental perspective on the TPI website states that: “Effective teaching must be planned and conducted “from the learner’s point of view.”” This makes sense to me since much of the teacher training that I’ve been doing recently is more like mentoring than transmitting the knowledge and skills involved in language teaching.

The TPI profile that you’ll receive includes the scores of the three sub-categories (beliefs, intentions, and actions) that make up the final total in each perspective. (E.g. my scores in Nurturing were quite consistent with Beliefs: 14, Intentions: 12, Actions: 12 for a total of 38 points.)

The scores in each perspective are said to be internally consistent when the three sub-scores have a gap of two or fewer points between them. The only inconsistent score in my results was that of the Transmission perspective with a six-point gap between the lowest and highest sub-score. (The results being B:13, I:7, A:8.) This is quite similar to my results in 2005 when there was a five-point gap in my scores in that perspective (B:13, I:10, A:8).

Teachers who score high in the Transmission perspective believe that: “Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter.” I would generally agree with that statement, but apparently there’s a disconnect between my beliefs and my intentions and actions.

I’ve been wondering what the reason is for this inconsistency. Is it connected to the context I’ve been working in? Is it because much of my experience as a student has been in a “transmission” type of classroom? Have I internalized the assumption that this is the preferred way of studying and learning, even though I don’t necessarily follow that in my own practice? These questions will definitely require some more thinking to puzzle out.

As teachers we might not always be clear on what our beliefs actually are. Our intentions show what we want to do and our actions are what we actually do do, but our beliefs are often less apparent.

Taking the Teaching Perspectives Inventory is a useful way to start clarifying our teaching beliefs and developing a teaching philosophy that can sustain us.

 

How practical is reflective practice?

One of the challenges of writing about reflective practice and attempting to clarify terms, like I did in yesterday’s post, is that it can make reflective practice seem to be all about ideas and terms and thinking and more thinking. (In fact while writing this post I came across a paper (see link below) that described reflective practice as having a “fundamentally contemplative focus.”) Actually though, for me, reflective practice is extremely practical – it’s not simply thinking for the sake of thinking. It’s a method of mindfully making changes in the classroom.

What’s more practical than keeping a teaching journal? Notebooks and journals and new pens all make me happy. One of my favourite places is a well-stocked stationery store. So I would love to recommend that everyone buy a nice notebook and keep a detailed teaching journal. But, not everyone likes the smell of new paper or is inspired by the sight of a blank page. I don’t quite understand it, but I suppose that it’s fine. Actually some of the most reflective teachers I’ve known do not keep a regular teaching journal.

I still remember a conversation I had with a colleague who was getting ready to hop on his bicycle and leave quite soon after his classes were finished. My judgmental assumption that he couldn’t wait to leave school was blown away when he started talking about a teaching puzzle that he was thinking about from that morning’s lesson. He said that he would be thinking about it on the trip to his next lessons and my definition of “reflective teacher” expanded. Just as each student’s journey to language proficiency is unique, so each teacher has a different method of working on her teaching practice.

Practical reflection ideas

These activities can be completed in a number of different ways

  • Simply think through the questions & make changes in your next lesson.
  • Jot quick notes on a 3 x 5 index card or in a similarly sized notebook.
  • Write short notes in the margins of your lesson plans.
  • Make copious notes in your carefully selected journal.

 

1. Examining past practice – Busting out of ruts

Part 1

Go through the files on your computer or activities and think/write about…

What activities from five or ten years ago do you still use now?

Are there activities that you’ve always used? Why? What’s useful about them?

Part 2

Choose one of those activities.

What do they do or accomplish that another activity can’t? What if you could never use it again?

Part 3

Make a plan to not use this activity the next time you would have. What can you do instead? How could you accomplish the same results in a different way?

 

2. Examining current practice – Build on what you already know and do

Make a list of…

  • Your top five indispensable items in class.

Or

  • Your top five emergency activities.

Why are they important for you?

How long have you been doing/using them?

What would happen if you didn’t have them?

 

I hope that these ideas struck a balance between contemplative and practical. Examining or looking with fresh eyes on what we are doing in the classroom is a method of recharging our teaching practice that will have long-lasting effects.

*****

Link

I discovered quite an interesting paper by Dick Allwright called “Three Major Processes of Teacher Development and the Appropriate Design Criteria for Developing and Using Them” published in 1999. (It can be downloaded from the Lancaster University website here  ) In the paper Allwright compares Reflective Practice, Action Research, and Exploratory Practice.

Attitude – Wholeheartedness

What’s the only thing in life that we have 100% control over? Our attitude.

We can’t always control what other people do or what happens to us. But we can control our how we react or respond to those things. We can be positive and “look on the bright side” or we can be negative and “see the glass as half empty.” (to mix idioms)

So basically we can choose to be 🙂 or we can choose :-(.

At least, that’s what I used to think. But, even though “putting on a happy face” can take us quite far, can this 🙂 sustain us in the long term through the day-to-day challenges of our lessons?

Over the years I’ve realized that attitude is much more nuanced than a simple 🙂 or 🙁 can show.

This is the first post in a series that will look at the following essential attitudes for reflection:

Wholeheartedness, directness, open-mindedness, responsibility, curiosity, the desire for growth

(The first four were identified by John Dewey. The latter two were added to the list by Carol Rodgers.)

Wholeheartedness

“Whole-heartedness, … indicates a genuine, no holds barred enthusiasm about one’s subject matter.”

Carol Rodgers on John Dewey

On a basic level, students respond to teachers who love their subject, whereas the teacher who isn’t enthusiastic about their subject will find it very hard to motivate students.

But wholeheartedness is not only connected to the subject being taught. She writes that,

A teacher’s subject matter can be seen as threefold: it includes a) the actual content she is teaching — French, for example;    b) the learner’s learning of French; and c) the teacher’s teaching and how it is affecting the student’s learning. This triangle of factors (teacher/teaching; learner/learning; and content—what Hawkins called the “I-Thou-It”) interacts to form a dynamic nexus…

A whole-hearted attitude towards the learner’s learning involves curiosity about any number of topics. What makes the students tick? What are their interests? What is their language level? What can they do in the language and what are they not able to do? Can they do things that you expected they couldn’t? Are there things that they can’t do that you expected they would be able to do? Why is that? What are five reasons that might explain this?

Whole-heartedness involves what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” Such an attitude can help students see themselves as successful language learners who are able to learn a language. They also see that the teacher enjoys being in the classroom with them. When a teacher is obviously, clearly enjoying their time with the students, the students are that much more likely to relax and learn more effectively.

The students are doing their best. This is an idea that has served my thinking in this area. Without strong evidence to the contrary how can we not give our students the benefit of the doubt?

If our students are underachieving it can be quite useful to start investigating with this question. “If this is their best, why do they think that this is all right? What is it about how I’ve structured this learning situation that leads them to believe that their poor effort is sufficient? Have they picked up ideas somewhere along the line, i.e. in previous classes or from former teachers, telling them that they don’t have to do anything or that they can’t learn?

The attitude of wholeheartedness that we extend to our students should also be extended to ourselves. We are successful teachers who are doing our best and are constantly learning and growing. This can be true no matter how many years of experience we have.

*****

Rodgers, C. (2002) Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking, Teachers College Record. Vol. 4, Number 4, pp. 842-866.

 

 

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.