My Happy ELT Story

Wow, almost a month has passed since the last time I posted here. I remember I wanted this blog to be a weekly one… oh well 😀

Anyway, today’s entry is a special one: it’s done as a part of the monthly Reflective Practice meeting organised by Ann Loseva. It’s usually something like a discussion table but this time we decided to write it down and exchange our stories. Time flies fast, and now we’re just a wee bit less than 2 weeks away from the New Year so why not to reflect on something good that has happened this year? So here it is, my happy ELT story of 2017.

This semester is quite interesting. I have 12 groups, and all of them are unique in their own ways. Some are funny, and some have never-again students in them. Some are amazing, and some are just average. Nevertheless, there’s something good about each and every one of them which makes it quite difficult to choose the best moment for the happy ELT story – too many surprising and inspiring things have happened…

This class is usually good. They’re solid pre-intermediate level. They’re majoring in psychology, and with the psychology students it’s always a Russian roulette: they’re going to be either as fast as a lightning or as slow as a snail (though they’re always nice and hard-working). Last semester, I got the latter. They were nice and kind people but no matter what I did, they just couldn’t have a dynamic discussion. This semester, I got an absolutely opposite situation: their discussions are so fast and dynamic that I sometimes don’t even manage to keep up with them!

It was with them when I decided to introduce some bits of learner autonomy. First, I let students choose which task they wanted to do for the function presentation. Second, I let them choose which topic they wanted for a short discussion and which topic they wanted for a long one. They were a bit surprised at first by the fact that they could actually choose the task but they absolutely loved it! I had a dialogue comparison task and a TTT task and they went for the TTT task since these students love talking to each other. They came up with tons of examples, and when I started asking some questions to guide them to the new functional language they answered actively (which is, to be honest, not a usual case among Japanese students). We were doing a function called ‘Comparisons’: “Which is better – {A} or {B}?” During practice, they figured out quickly that ‘better’ doesn’t always work and came up with some alternative ways to compare things. Even though the topic was difficult (in their long discussion, they had to discuss how to reduce poverty – it was their choice), they had a very dynamic and thoughtful discussion – it was the most interesting discussion on this topic I’ve heard. They used all the necessary functions and communication skills and asked questions to each other.

After the lesson, I wrote in my teaching journal: “The lesson was smooth and fun, I enjoyed it 200%.”

You know, now, when I’m writing it down, it seems not particularly special – just a usual lesson following the same layout as my other lessons. The students did a great job but there were other students who did a great job that week, too. However, teaching that lesson felt fantastic. Everything was exactly the way I imagined it. It couldn’t have been better. 100% perfection. Everything just fell into the right place: the students, the atmosphere in the class, the tasks, and the topic.

That lesson has become kind of a golden standard, and I tend to compare it to the lessons I’ve had after it.

It feels great to know that it’s totally possible to have a dream lesson come true.

 

And what’s your happy ELT story of 2017? Feel free to share it with us!

 

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QUESTIONS FROM ANNA:

  • I know it’s a “happy story” but I’m really curious what your never-again students are like for you (and I like this term, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it!).

Ooooh, I’ll tell you all about them! This student’s previous teacher (let’s call him H.) struggled a lot with him as well.
H. isn’t interested in the EDC classes at all, and he makes it quite obvious. He does speak during discussions but not much (and sometimes he doesn’t speak at all). He doesn’t care about the functions. He speaks Japanese quite often. He doesn’t want to be in the classroom (but yet, he only missed 2 lessons). He always comes with the bell, throws his bag on the table and falls on his chair. Whenever I address him, he starts laughing and pretends he doesn’t understand me. He starts paraphrasing me in Japanese pushing other students to explain to him what I want (in Japanese, of course!). Really, it’s better without him, and I’ve never ever said such thing about any of my students before!

  • Well, and just as well and for fairness – what makes them amazing?!=)

Well, according to my classification (I guess I should write about it some time in the future!) amazing students are those who, after some time, manage to become a unity, a group. They’re usually positive/cheerful, attentive and responsive.

  • The way you introduced learner autonomy for this class sounds pretty exciting! Were all students immediately clear with what they had to do? (I’ve noticed that many Japanese students are quickly and comfortably set in the routines). Will you do this again? Would you do that with less dynamic/active students to try and see where it takes them?

I do it in every lesson now! They can always choose which topic they want for which discussion, and I have a double-sided Fluency poster so that I could do D1 prep for any topic 🙂 For lower levels, I write the question on the board. Some groups need 1 minute to discuss it with each other and decide, and some just need 10 seconds. They seem to like the opportunity to influence the lesson a bit 🙂

  • This sounds like an important line to me. And a reminder – a usual lesson can feel fantastic. =).. I see now you didn’t write about YOURSELF as in what fell into place – students are there, topic is there, task is there… how about you? how important do you think you are/were as an “ingredient” of that class?..

You know, I first wanted to write ‘me’ but then I deleted it (don’t know why).
I think I was an important ingredient because who knows, with a different teacher they may have become a different group. We do have a good rapport; I feel they like me, and I like them a lot. Some of them even give me a high five whenever they do something well (manage to stay in English or say a good idea).

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