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Giving and Receiving Feedback, It Will Never Be Easy But It Can Be Better

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I think at times teachers can have a little trouble with receiving and giving feedback. Their feedback skills could be said to need a little practice. I think this is important because as a teacher you will need feedback from your students to tell you if they like your teaching. Also, the students will want feedback on their learning. Each piece of feedback needs a positive, constructive base.

A first reaction, when thinking about feedback, may well be to go on the defensive when it is given. On the defensive, I mean that you are not really listening to the person giving the feedback. The point is feedback is information that can be heard by the receiver as evidenced by the fact that they do not go on the defensive. I agree that feedback has great value but only to us if we can let the feedback in and effectively use it.

There is also ineffective feedback. These are judgmental statements and can upset people. During a reflection, a teacher was told they were talking too much in class but the observer seemed to forget to look at the students who were fine with this talking. Other people said it was a lower level, and the students did not talk much anyway. Would you feel bad for the teacher? Was the observer too opinionated?

Another aspect is getting feedback but not using the experience as a positive move forward. The observer is just making a comment. The teacher needs to ask them such questions as  ‘Why’? and ‘What do you think is better?’ For future actions, a teacher should take the time to realize that they could be wrong and that they should take in the information (feedback) that has been given. They should ask for clarification and realize that it is not a battle, and the comment is to help. They should reply with what they think. Thus hopefully getting a discussion going.

Moreover, the information that is given in the feedback can be shut out. Teachers sometimes lack the skills to send and receive feedback. For example, a teacher thought of a lesson plan idea and mentioned it to another teacher. Basically, they were told that the lesson plan was off-target because the lesson was not student-centred thus in the lesson plan the teacher would speak more which they are not supposed to do. The problem was the teacher had thought about this lesson for a long time and had it planned. Now the first reaction, when they were told it was off-target, was to get a little angry. They felt as though it was an attack against them personally. Maybe they felt as though they were not good enough; their ideas were not good enough. So, they felt a bit sorry for themselves. One idea could be to say, “shall I forget about that lesson plan?’ and if they said ‘yes’, say to them “what do you think then?” or “how can I develop it?” The teacher could have asked why they thought it was off-course and what ideas the teacher should think of. The teacher should have got to the bottom of their thinking as they might think up another lesson plan like this and have the same trouble again.

In conclusion, a teacher’s acceptance of feedback does not mean that they need to always act on it. The feedback should have been encouraging, helpful and given with clarity. If so, then the teacher needs to consider the feedback, and decide how, if at all, they wish to act upon it.  This is strictly their choice, but it is important to bring to mind that the person giving the feedback felt strongly enough that they mentioned it. Let’s face it, how would you react in any given feedback situation?

(633 Words)

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Professional Development results can come in many ways

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A report of the dissemination you have carried out to inform colleagues/teachers (either in your own school, neighbouring school or LEA), or young people, governors, parents. This report will include what they have learned from the process of dissemination (approximately 1,000 words).

I was on a teaching course for two months and tried different ways to promote professional development. I would like in this report to give an account of the benefit of the distribution of my efforts. One major fact involved in these endeavors, I found is that some teachers are inexperienced to teaching/professional development. It meant I had to look deeper to see salient points that highlighted recognition of the work I had been completing. I must say I did this report against some barriers, that being the Asian way of teaching which entails the students just listening to the teacher in a very passive way. The students must believe every word that comes out of the teacher’s mouth as these young minds sit in quiet obedience. It can be hard to change people’s methods in a short time. It is true the students dare not ask leading questions to their teachers which I must admit mildly extended to me but perseverance for professional development is a must.

The initial awareness of my development came through surveying 50 student’s ideas as to what a good teacher should be like. I noticed that there were high scores for most of the questions even though some questions were polar opposites. You either had to think one question was right and the other wrong, not the same. I questioned the answers the students gave and proposed my uncertainty to my colleagues. It certainly made them think about how the students answer surveys and the feeling was that, do they really understand what they are doing when they answer questions? It was noticed that the majority of the students just fill in the form not knowing what they are doing while others copy. It held true with my colleagues because the students were given a questionnaire by our training centre at the end of each term where they had to give a points score for their teacher. My colleagues firmly believed and used my evidence when the manager came to say that the students can not give a true representation of a teacher’s lessons by a score card.

I would like to add that through my survey of 50 students which I had designed the questions; the scores, as mentioned, did not seem to add up. I decided to let the students come up with the questions. I reviewed and edited it completely. This led to better results and a better understanding from the students of how to complete the survey.

I can certainly say that I have changed perceptions on teaching and shown a few teachers how I think a positive thinking teacher should teach. For example, I was asked by one teacher to help her teaching her class strong adjectives. The teacher’s approach was to just give the students pronunciation practice. I did the lesson in a constructive approach leaving time to have the students produce spoken sentences. She mentioned to me that she thought the material I used was great. I took the opportunity to explain that the book had many words that were too much for the students.

I also spoke to her about the students copying. I wondered how they can learn. She said ‘oh, when the test comes they will fail’. Basically, it was the students’ problem, not hers. It was attitudes like this I came up against. This teacher had already mentioned a few times that the students were bad. This led me to think that it was their learning skills, not their ability that was holding them back. It was examples like these that made me even more determined to show these teachers how students should learn in class. This meant creating a learning environment when they have to think for themselves. I did have some feedback from one teacher who said that the students enjoyed learning with me and found my lessons interesting. I had a chance to explain to this teacher that if the lesson are interesting and thought provoking the students will feel they are part of a learning process.

Moreover, I have been continually giving advice to other teachers. This I found irritating at times. For example, I decided to teach one lesson for a teacher for him to see teaching from a new angle. I used one of my lesson plans that I felt fitted in with a more relaxed approach as this teacher had been told he was putting too much effort into his teaching. I showed him that with the right approach he can get the students doing the work for him and he just has to facilitate them and coax them along during the lesson keeping them on a learning path. I then observed him the next day teaching my lesson. In the feedback session, he did not really give me a great response when I asked him about my lesson and how well his lesson went doing my demonstration class. I wondered why he was evasive, was it he was not used to professional development, was it he was scared to show his failing, or was it he felt I was I intruding? I actually thought at one point that I should slow down on the teaching conversations. I wondered how I could help him with his teaching. The fact was the following days after he I felt he began to notice how I worked and the detail I put into teaching. I began to see examples of professional development coming through. I saw his new sheet for his lesson plan. It looked not too dissimilar to my lesson sheet I had done with him and some of my material which he had seen on my desk. I also realized he was asking more questions and enquiring what I thought he should do for this learning process. At least, the advice was slowly getting through.

Overall, you must expect professional development to be a bit alien to some and teachers not enthused over trying new methods. However, the benefits are certainly there.

(1007 Words)

 

Mention the features of Community Language Teaching

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The Community Language Teaching (CLT) model has many features. A lot of these features are completely opposite to a traditional school model of learning. It is true that teachers like to stand in front of the class and take control. This is what anyone would think of as a normal approach and what most students expect. This allows the teacher to be the instigator of most topics while the students sit passively at their desks. CLT goes against the traditional grain and tries to make the learning experience more group structured. In this essay, I will show that the learning experience is based more on a type of counseling learning where the use of counseling techniques are used to develop language for all concerned. Everybody has a part to play and a community is born where students can empathize with each other.

This CLT method was developed in the early seventies by Charles Curran. It involved recognizing the effective and the emotional factors as paramount in a classroom. It is always hard for a student to feel relaxed in a new class let alone having confidence in speaking let alone a second language. There is a consensus that views community language as learning that can help reduce anxiety. This is, of course, one of the main factors in learning (a language) where the students feel anxious about expressing their feeling in a class full of people that in the main they do not know. There is a move towards the interpersonal contact between student and teacher as well as student and student. The teacher should have the skills that involve counseling and bring the students together through their techniques. If the class can have a good relationship language and confidence should flow better. One way to get the students to be more familiar with each other is to get the learning group into a circle. There is less turning of heads and the shy people can not be stuck in the corner. In all of this, the teacher is more of a facilitator and tends to sit outside the circle. This format is fine if the group is of a smaller size that helps for everyone to be seen and heard. A desirable amount of students would be about 10. This gives the students more time to speak, less time to get distracted, the teacher also has more time to cater to all the students.

The process of the CLT pertains to a pervading tone in the classroom where the students can take control and build their skills and language with the help of others. The students become active learners in their own right. It has been said that the teacher should not control the conversation in CLT, but let students talk whatever they want to talk (Rardin et al., 1988). Firstly the group can sit in a circle and think about what they want to say. If ideas are flying around they can be written on the whiteboard and brainstormed to see which is liked the best. Students are allowed to use their mother tongue and the teacher translates this language and the building process starts. Students are made to feel more comfortable talking in the conversation circle. This allows them to express their feelings. The student can mention something in their own language. This is then put into small phrases by the teacher and then the students can work with the teacher before they open up to the rest of the class. There is not so much error correction.

Even though the layout of the class and the relaxed atmosphere may bring on some anxiety at first, the students through the CLT feel less stress as goes on and begin to work with their peers which is the goal. This highlights the awareness of community which is in a non-competitive atmosphere with a sense of involvement. The students also take responsibility to their learning and make themselves become active learners that are inquisitive of language and each other.

Once the class has finished a reflection session is essential in the CLT approach. Trust between the teacher and learners or among learners is established by sharing their feelings, anxieties, frustrations or demands. By sharing anxiety, learners may build a sense of unity to do one task together (Rardin et al., 1988). The teacher also uses less error correction during the class as not to stop the flow. If any correction is used it should not be intrusive as the method is to let the students express their meaning. The teacher job is to try and extract as much information as can be without pressuring the student. There is a focus on meaning over accuracy.  After class, the teacher job is to write up a report of the students’ language during the lesson as to be a reflection of all that went on and give the students some resource to look back on. This shows all the key structures and vocabulary they used.

To conclude, the CLT method certainly helps promote a better communication in the class. The classes will succeed if the students get used to taking part in their learning. It also focuses on the teacher’s ability to promote this working relationship with all involved.

(869 Words)

An Outsider’s Training Visit – Reflecting on the Approach and Experience

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For one week, our centre was going to have a trainer visit to provide us, the teachers, with a chance to have this an outsider from the head office observe our teaching and be, himself, observed by us. This would allow the teachers to take a look at their teaching and hopefully benefit and develop ideas and new teaching methods as well learn from this person’s teaching. Of course, as a professional teacher, it is always advantageous to take a step back and observes other teachers as well as ponder some of your teaching techniques. For me, the experience sounded a pleasant change and a chance to improve my teaching.   We were initially given some information regarding the visit. This explained that the process would ‘provide teachers with support to reflect on and develop their own teaching’ and ‘freshen up the branch atmosphere’. It sounded like great new approach. I was also buoyed by the fact that this outside trainer would be providing the feedback. I say this because I completed a teaching course with him (he was a trainer) at the head office and found him to be a person who could evaluate your teaching and give constructive criticism without making you feel you failed in any way.

So, day one, I walked into the office and met with our centre manager and had a chat with him and said ‘hello’ to the outside observer/trainer. I explained to him that I would have to speak with him about my class which he would take over and teach for one lesson. This was fine. That day was fine he passed me in the office nothing was said. The next day, I said ‘hello’ again nothing much was said.  That day, he walked in and out of our teachers’ room without saying anything. The following day, I was on the computer, and I remember this trainer coming in teacher’s room. I did not see him, and I remember he basically walked past me and sat on the computer next to me and never said anything. I got the feeling that he was being a bit absent. I thought to myself ‘oh, hello Neil’. It seemed a bit strange he had not actually said anything to me from day one or had not made any attempt. From this point on, I remember thinking that he was not being that familiar. It seemed he was not really trying to be friendly and make this ‘outsider’ experience pleasurable. If anything he was fitting the role as an ‘outisder, a hired in professional you could say. Generally, it was after these experiences that I noticed that this guy was in manager’s office most of the time or on the computer never really coming into the office. For myself, I thought I knew the man and we were familiar with each other from the teaching course although I think, at that point, I was mistaken. I found him to be very cold and not willing to participate with our team of teachers or get involved. It was then that I had the feeling that he must think he is superior in some way, and we are only teachers; he does not want to associate with us. I was confused I had read the initial information about this professional development process given to us to read telling us about ‘empowering the teachers’. My experiences so far were not telling me this.

So, the trainer was now going to teach my class. The time came for him to teach my class, he went in and taught the class. Again, I was confused I had read that the outsider would ‘meet before class so that the visitor can explain the day’s lesson objectives and contextualise the lesson’. I was at my desk all the time before the lesson and nothing was said. I was in the dark.  My feelings during his lesson from all the happenings I had had, I must admit, I was not inspired to take a positive look at his lesson. For myself, I felt that he thought he was a bit above us teachers. So, it prevailed that when we had the feedback session I made a point of showing that he was not above us and his lesson had certain aspects where he had moments as not to be so perfect.

Once I had observed the outside observer/trainers teaching, it was now time for me to be observed. I thought I was being observed by this outsider although I realised later that it was actually the manager, although the trainer was in the room observing me and writing down notes which meant he was observing. The observation of me was on Sunday at 9.00am. I arrived at 8.20pm that day and spent 35 minutes getting ready to make sure I could do my best. Once all this preparation was done I sat down for two minutes just before I was to go into the classroom; then just before I was to go in the class, the manager came up to me and started to ask questions about what I was to do in the class. I felt as this was not the time to be discussing objectives and procedures. This was not planned and not an appropriate time I thought. My reaction to the manager’s questions was one of ‘give me a break’, I need a couple of minutes to relax and contemplate before a 3-hour class and you could have picked a better time.

The class I thought went fine. Of course, there were aspects that I would have changed but on the whole, I was satisfied. That Sunday afternoon, I had the feedback meeting regarding the lesson with the two observers. My experience of the whole week had not been as I had thought so by this time I was not relishing speaking with the outsider. The thing was, he was not going to do the feedback. It was the manager as he was learning from the trainer, and it was his chance to show what he had learnt from the trainer from other feedback sessions. The manager asked me to describe my experience of teaching while being observed for 1 hour. I said I thought I was okay and, of course, there were some aspects I may have changed but I think the manager wanted me to be more descriptive so we could generate a meaningful feedback session. I was not really in the mood for this, if I may say ‘interrogation’. I let the manager explain to me. This was the point that I found strange, the manager started using all this technical language like the outside trainer was putting words in his mouth. It felt very unusual for me as I knew the manager very well and have had a lot of conversation where we have discussed teaching in a meaningful way, where I think both us benefited. The problem was that this time it was the manager was saying the trainer’s words. It actually made me think that this was just the same as the teaching course I had done with the trainer a while back. I thought to myself this is just the teaching course again talking about ‘objectives’, ‘SWBATs’ and ‘challenges’. I must admit that I was not as open as I should I have been, and I may have come across as being a little obstructive although I had the feeling that this ‘outsider training’  could have had a new innovative approach that would inspire teachers not just regurgitate old methods from the teaching course.

There are many factors that I have talked about in this reflection, and I cannot say I am not at fault for being part of the process that went wrong. I do feel that some team bonding would have been beneficial, a chance for all the teachers and staff to be familiar with the trainer and for this outsider to feel relaxed with our whole teaching team. I also think if you are going to come into another working environment and do anything you have to create an atmosphere that whole staff feel relaxed, able to contribute and not feel they are not being dictated to. I also feel that if you are going to develop people/teachers by coming into their working environment you should use new ideas and new methodology that show you put some thought into what you are doing and people can be motivated by your efforts to improve them.

(1428 Words)

 

 

 

 

Unconscious Acts

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It’s all well and good teaching language in conversation, but have you ever noticed you open your mouth when you are about to ask a question, or raise your eyebrows when surprised or expecting a question, or even rapidly inhale when you are ready to speak? It all adds to the flavour of practising conversation and students’ non-verbal actions.

Using videos and film in class

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 I always use videos to make the classes a bit more interesting and vary the activities. I thought I should show you the websites that have videos to get some feedback if anyone tries them. I used one video called Mixtape where a kid gives a mixtape to a girl he likes who lives next door. At the end of the class, the students come up with a mixtape of their own. I actually found out a lot about the students’ music tastes. That week’s lessons I was teaching were about music, so it fitted in great and took up the ninety minutes of teaching I had. I have added the actual weblink for the lesson and added another video lesson site for you to have a look at.

An analysis of the experience of being a teacher

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I wonder what motivates teachers to start the profession. For sure many reasons make someone begin a career in teaching. Is it pay or job security or is it a fall back option? This being said initial motivation does not mean that years later the same can be said. The fact of the matter I feel is the evolution of the new teacher into a mature tutor. This is then the professional person who has recognized the true meaning of teaching. This person recognizes their role in helping to shape young minds and impart moral values through education. Teaching has to be a vocation. In part an autobiographical story and analysis, for this piece, I feel that there are many aspects that any teacher has to realize to fulfil true potential.

Certainly, ongoing professional development highlights certain challenges in teaching that a teacher has to face up to. A focal point for me was the realization that students do not really know how to learn. How can any teacher, great as they may think they are, not realize that the students are naive about how to get the most benefit from a lesson? Any teacher has to look at the students’ own learning traits in light of imperative that they both foster lifelong learners in their classrooms as well as become lifelong learners themselves (Bernard-Powers et al., 2000). The teacher definitely has to play a huge part in a student’s education although every student and the class as a whole have to progress to help the teacher get the most out of them.

I have spent many years in Asia and have noticed younger students learning traits. I have had to change my style of teaching to suit their needs. I have used a lot of my time here progressing as a teacher. This means drawing attention to many facets of my teaching. Of course, I would not change any of this, it is all valuable material but the question is: should you focus more on yourself as a teacher or the students? Which one deserves more thought? Lately, I have come to think deeper about the childrens’ role in learning. It’s just when you see children who have so much energy, who are not lazy per se, using their energy into ignoring the learning process. This does not mean everyone is mentally challenged; it is the direction they are taking. For example, I had a fifteen-year-old student not long ago he kept saying the word ‘brio’. I am not sure what it meant in his language or my language, but he would say things like ‘do you brio?’, ‘I am brio’. This was actually when I was teaching ‘present tense’. My co-teacher thought he was being disruptive and after class, she had a word with me about it. She went on to mention that he was a hyperactive kid who had problems at home and she was sorry. Many factors come into one’s learning and potential, but to me, I saw a child who had energy. He was contributing in his own way. It was the way I dealt with this child’s attitude that had the major factor in his learning. I was glad to have him taking part. I felt it was a bit negative just to put him down as having problems and forget about it. I felt I just had to channel that liveliness and educate him to use it properly. To put in bluntly teachers need to see what role the students actually play in the classroom. Similarly, Beth Buchler, educational consultant and director of New-Learning Educational Services writes that you need a ‘student who is responsible, who takes charge, and who self-regulates in the context of today’s changing learning environment[1]’. You do not change these children overnight and many will take time. I feel that every student has potential. The problem is overcoming their learned behaviors they have in class that are being detrimental to them.

So, why are they not performing? One other factor could be a boring teacher. How can any teacher help a student change their learning style if they do not have their interest? I refer to [2]Alexandra Frean’s piece written in the Times newspaper about  ‘boring teachers blamed for rowdy classes’. It seems obvious that students will show their bad side when their bored but according to Ofsted this was a problem in English schools. I read text from the Times newspaper, and not long after, while listening to an English lesson in the next room, I felt inspired to write in my diary.

‘Having read the Times newspaper story. I have again recognized a factor in English teaching and predominately teaching not by native English teachers. This is that the students are naughty, but why are they naughty? Is it because they are disobedient students or because the lessons are not so interesting? I have just witnessed a teacher shouting at her noisy students at the start of the lesson. They were quiet once she started shouting but now they are back talking again. She has just asked them to look at the questions in their book and find the answers in the reading. It seems a very easy lesson plan. Are the children interested? I think not. I think all they need to do is fill in the blanks which are being done by a couple of people namely by the best students. The others are just waiting for the answers, happily talking. This teacher is not making it interesting, no wonder the students are back talking. A few minutes later, she has now started talking 95% in her native tongue then asking for one English word answer at a time. The English she speaks is mixed with her own language. Is this normal English? The answers are now being given anyway. What is the teacher purpose of this class? Where is the motivation to learn? If you filled in the answers you have finished. Yes, you have finished but isn’t the purpose of learning a foreign language where you use it in a context that is valuable for the future? The weaker students are just copying the answers. I swear this information will stay in their minds for a short time.’

The irony of all this is that the more the students become independent learners; a process “in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others” (Knowles, 1975, p. 11), the teacher’s job will hopefully become more manageable and motivation and interest will take over idle chat and disruption. Teachers can then confidently feel that they are succeeding. This will be not only with themselves but with the students. Hopefully the pride they feel from making these students ready for the world outside school will show them the true meaning of teaching and encourage them for many years. I hope this essay has tried to open teachers to this fact.

1205 Words

(Created 2008)

[1]Beth Buchler, M.A., educational consultant and director of New-Learning Educational Services – Critical Issue: Terms of Engagement—Rethinking Teachers’ Independent Learning Traits

[2] Alexandra Frean, Education Editor – Boring teachers blamed for rowdy classes – Times Newspaper