Teacher Autonomy (Not That One You Think of Right Now)

So today I’d like to talk about teacher autonomy.

A quick glance at the results of Google search, and you get to know that the concept of teacher autonomy ‘refers to the professional independence of teachers in schools, especially the degree to which they can make autonomous decisions about what they teach to students and how they teach it’ (c). However, it’s not the teacher autonomy I’m going to talk about.

When I started at my current workplace I felt like I had spent more time teaching while being observed than teaching on my own.
When I first entered the room to teach 8 university students I felt so unprepared. To be honest with you, I was really tempted to run back to my programme manager and ask him ‘hey, are you sure it’s a good idea to leave me alone with them?’
When I was planning my lessons, I always sought for an approval from someone more experienced than me.
I felt I lack teachers autonomy, or the ability to make my own professional decisions, even minor ones, without being approved.
I still feel I lack it sometimes. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, and there’re other teachers who have a similar experience (or had it at some point).

It was a couple of weeks ago when I realised that I should be persistent and shouldn’t give up on my ideas.
We were in the middle of planning Lesson 6 about advantages and disadvantages. I had a wonderful idea of presenting this topic by using ‘2 Kinds of People’ cards (I’ve already mentioned them here). It seemed perfect. I could write a long and thorough rationale justifying my choice if anyone asked for it. However, I still didn’t feel 100% sure, and I showed it to my programme manager first in order to hear what he says. He said it seemed cool, and I felt relieved.
When I think about it, I ask myself why I did it. Why couldn’t I go on with this activity if I was sure it’d be successful (and it was)? Simply because I think of myself as someone not experienced enough yet? Why? The performance of my students proves that most of my teaching decisions were good. What is there inside of me that says I’m not good enough?
Also, for this lesson, I made a dialogue comparison activity. I wrote the dialogues myself and felt really proud of my work. However, some people said it might be a bit too difficult for lower levels, so I ended up borrowing another dialogue comparison activity from my colleague. I didn’t quite like the dialogues and what they were focusing on so I tried to change it several times but somehow failed – they would always become as difficult as my dialogues were while I wanted something very simple! At the end, I just tried using the dialogues as they were. After three lessons I realised I just couldn’t continue using them. They didn’t introduce the function the way I wanted to introduce them. And I finally did what I should’ve done from the very beginning: I started using my dialogues for all levels. I gave it to one of my lowest levels. It was challenging, but I just asked them more questions and guided them more carefully to the understanding of the function, and it worked!! They totally nailed it. So I underestimated them and myself – well done!
Why couldn’t I do it from the very beginning? I still don’t quite get it, but it taught me to defend my teaching ideas – not from other people but from myself.

Sometimes it’s better to rely less on others and rely more on yourself.
Sometimes it’s better to make your own mistakes because from them you learn. After all, it’s always easier to remember the right way of doing things if it was you who messed up, not someone else.
It’s important to get detached and obtain teacher autonomy which, for me, is the ability to make your own teaching decisions without seeking a compulsory approval from your seniors.

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I Have Nothing More to Say

I bet all of you here have been in my shoes when the students are just so amazing and did such a great job that you literally have no feedback to give apart from saying how great it was.
Like, ‘this was awesome, guys, you did a great job, and… erh… hm… oh well, what else can I say? Let’s keep working like that next week as well!’, you say while going over your students’ performance in a panic search of at least some tiny thing to improve (an important note: we don’t focus on accuracy in our discussion classes). And you find none.
Okay, not none. Of course, you can always say something like ‘you only asked one follow-up question; it’ll be nice if you ask more next time!’. However, let’s be realistic: there’re four people, four topics, sixteen minutes, and a looooong list of functions and skills they’re supposed to use in the discussion.  If they managed to use it all and ask one follow-up question, it means they tried hard. Like really hard. Would it be fair to undermine their effort by saying that they could’ve tried harder and done even more?

This leads to the other question: Should there always be some points to improve mentioned in your feedback? Honestly, I think, no. Sometimes you just have to admit the students did 100% of what you asked and they don’t have to be pushed to do 101% unless they want to.
I believe that if you have nothing else to say apart from how great your students performed in this lesson, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher. It actually means the opposite. It means you taught them well, and they used the knowledge you shared with them to the maximum extent.
Well, what can I say? WELL DONE!

Reflecting on Reflection

This moment when you find out that the presenters of the TEFLology Podcast are your colleagues. Oh well…

Anyway, this is the post (which I promised to write like half a month ago) on my first ever Reflection Practice meeting. Let’s go!

The RP group I joined has been holding meetings for quite a while now but it didn’t take long to adjust myself (which is good because there is nothing weirder than that feeling you get when you join a group as a newbie and feel like an alien – you know what I mean?).

The agenda was ‘Reflection tools, methods, and techniques’, and that’s what we discussed:

  • Experiential Learning Cycle (which I have been using for quite a while without even realising)
  • Hand-y reflection tool (more about it in Ann Loseva’s post here)
  • Emotions and their connection to the needs being met (or not)
  • Your own ways you engaged in reflective practice (I could come up with quite many, yay!)
  • Zhenya Polosatova’s worksheet “How do you reflect on your teaching?”
  • Your PD (professional development) goals for the months (mine is to manage my bad-attitude class)

Zhenya’s worksheet is something I’d like to tell more about. It actually blew my mind with the variety of different ways in which you can reflect on your teaching. My ultimate favourites are:

a. Invite a colleague to observe your class, then talk about ideas
(I love observations, you can even say that I’m an observation freak

b. Write 2-3 (nice!) things you noticed about your challenging student today
(I must admit I have some challenging students so it’d be a good way to make myself like them I guess)

c. Free-talking about your ‘burning’ question
(I’m always up for a chat! Anyone else?)

d. Ask students about their favourite topics/activities in your lessons
(It’s always nice to hear what they think)

And just think about these two: 1) write a post-it Thank You note to one of your students and 2) draw your challenging student! Isn’t it amazing?! The latter one is an art therapy and reflection combined!

Overall, I found this meeting extremely useful and enjoyable and am definitely attending the next one. Can’t wait for it!

And how do you reflect on your teaching? Don’t hesitate to stop and share your experience 🙂

Goal-setting

Oh well, it’s been a long time since my last post.

I got through weeks 2 and 3; we’re starting week 4 tomorrow.

So far, I’ve been sticking to the same feedback activity every lesson. Last semester, I’ve tried different kinds of feedback and ended up with using the combination of self-reflective and peer feedback followed by setting a goal for the next discussion this semester.

All students set realistic and appropriate goals based on their performance – it’s good! However, not all of them (I’d say few of them) manage to achieve their goals. Probably I have to promote it more and push them harder…

Anyway, I decided to focus on goal-setting for my semester project (which is a teaching journal this time). Rather than focusing on achieving individual goals, I decided to promote so-called class goals (to create some sense of unity, I guess?). At the end of every lesson, we’ll choose a class goal for the next lesson. At the beginning of the next lesson, I’ll put this goal on the board and announce it. At the end of the lesson, I’ll ask students if they think they achieved it or not. If yes, then ‘yay!’ and a new goal. If not, then ‘ouch…’ and the goal remains the same.

Focusing on individual goals would be interesting as well but in this case, I’d like to do some questionnaires as well (progress, etc.) – make it deeper, in other words. So for now, I decided to start with a smaller project. I’ll see how it goes.

Week 1 Update

Somehow I totally forgot to mention these two activities I tried out in week 1.

The first one was inspired by the Tumblr blog called 2 Kinds of People. My mom and I were having fun looking at them and comparing our preferences when it strucked me that this could be a perfect multipurpose activity. Like literally, you can use it for almost anything you can possibly imagine! And especially for functional language like reasons or connecting ideas. So I decided to spend time cutting 65 big cards since I was sure I’d use them a lot. The activity was simple: students look at the cards and say which way they choose justifying their choice by reasons and examples. They can also use some other functions, agree/disagree and ask follow-up questions to each other. And it worked perfectly with every level, both higher and lower ones! I told them not to worry about vocabulary and try to use the words they already know since the main focus was on fluency rather than accuracy. Students seemed to enjoy. I’ll definitely use this activity again for introducing Balancng Opinions function.

The second activity was the review of previously learnt functions with the use of… a bomb. A black plastic bomb from ‘Pass the Bomb’ game. Students would pass the Bomb’ saying one function or communication skill phrase. Again, this activity had a huge success, especially among kinaesthetic students. Some of them even got a bit overexcited 😀 I’ll use it again at the very end of semester to revise the new function and skill phrases.

Week 1 Summary

Week 1 has ended a couple of days ago so it’s time to summarize it!

First of all, it seems like the universe doesn’t want me to use that angry cat picture from the previous post: I don’t have any loud classes this semester 😀 Though maybe some of them will become loud later on the way…

Generally, almost all my classes are nice, motivated and focused. I already love them! There’s one class that is not really keen on trying using TL but oh well, challenges make us stronger, don’t they?

I started doing more self-reflective and peer-feedback this semester – it’s going pretty well, most students have quite good self-awareness and self-reflective skills; their feedback usually matches mine. I make them set a goal for our second discussion and achieve it, and after the discussion, I ask them to think if they managed or not. I never ask them to report on it though since I know anyway if they managed or not and don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable if they didn’t. Most of them do manage to achieve their goals!

What else… I’m trying to explain why we’re using the phrases we’re using. Seems like they’re listening attentively, some of them nod, but I’m not sure how much they actually understand 😀 The results are mostly positive though; they use TL quite successfully (if they want to).

One thing I realised is that it’s not about language level but about attitude. I have a group of five low-level athletes, one of them can’t even say a proper sentence. I told them not to worry and use very simple English. They double-checked in Japanese that it was really OK, and I said yes again. I swear I could hear them breathing out happily 😀 And you know what, they were amazing! A bit unserious but it made the lesson more fun 🙂 They used TL, tried to speak out and make themselves understood by the others, and helped each other with vocabulary. Their teamwork skills were impressive (which is quite logical though since four of them are doing team sports). So again, thanks to their attitude, the lack of vocabulary and grammar knowledge didn’t prevent them from doing a great job. I didn’t care how good their English was but I did care about their willingness to contribute.

Generally speaking, week 1 was successful. I set up some useful routines (e.g., post-discussion 1 feedback and goal setting) and already had one of the students said that I’m cute 😀 I’m in the middle of Week 2 now, and it’s been more or less fine so far. I’m a bit worried about next week and even made two different practice procedures for higher and lower levels. Will see how it works on Wednesday.

Next post will be dedicated to the Reflective Project meeting we had yesterday. I hope to write it soon before I forget what we did there.
Stay tuned!

Go go go & the Power of Feedback

It happened. Procrastination I mean. It was supposed to be a weekly-updated blog but today is Saturday, and I’m far behind the schedule. Oh well.

Anyway, my second semester at the uni is almost here, and I’m extremely excited! I spent last semester mainly adjusting to the environment that was completely new for me, but now I’m ready for experimenting. This time, I’m intended to change couple of things:

1. Quieting noisy classes down: last time I almost ended up losing my voice. Na-uh, not gonna happen again. I found this amazing picture I wanna print out in colour and transform into a poster I’d show whenever my students make me feel irritated. It’s fun, and I don’t have to say a single word, just walk around and show it to the students LoL

2. Always ask at the end of the lesson if there’re any questions (somehow I always forget to do it). Be more accessible and approachable.

3. Explain clearly why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why these function phrases amd communication skills are important and how they can help outside the classroom. I did it last time but I can do better.

4. More personal feedback so that students would always know why they get the grade they get.

***

Couple of days ago, I got anonymous comments from my spring semester students. It was heartwarming and empowering!! I’d never expect anything like that. My ultimate favourites are (translated from Japanese):

“I never liked English. Actually, I hated it. I even wasn’t sure if I should apply for this university since there’re so many compulsory English courses.

Your classes opened my eyes. I realised that learning English can be fun. The classes were so different from what I had at high school. I enjoyed them a lot! Now, I want to continue learning English and become better at it.

Thank you so much.”

and

“Lina is so cute!!!”

I can’t express how thrilled I am that there’s a person now whose hatred for learning English changed into enjoying it (with my help)! And yes, I really tried to be cute, and I’m happy I succeeded at it 😀

What are your goals for this academic year / semester? What do you want to change compare to the previous one? If you read this, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment 🙂