From theory to classroom practice #researchbites

About a month ago, and as I’ve written about here, I got the chance to go to the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona. There’s one phrase that’s stuck with me for the last month: the graveyard of great conference ideas.

This concept that we all generate tonnes of fantastic ideas through connecting with our peers and listening and participating in great sessions but that once we get back to real life, it’s as if it had never happened. Those fab ideas that could help our learners so much, go to a place in our minds where we remember them only occasionally and think: oh yeah, I really should do something about that. Only to be left there, in our minds, for weeks, months (even years?) to come.

And that’s when I stumbled across an article by Iclal Sahin and Ali Yildirim discussing exactly how EFL teachers take what they learn at training events and courses and implement it in the classroom.

Their study looked at 10 English teachers in Turkey from varying schools and who had varying levels of experience. Using an INSET day as the training base, they conducted interviews and observations with the teachers just after the training day and then after observing them in the classroom.

They found out that:

  • Teachers initially adopted the training content quite quickly
  • Where student motivation was high and the resulting English grades were strong, the training content continued to be used in class
  • However, where student motivation was low and resulting English grades were weak, teachers went back to their old methods.

It’s quite interesting to note how quickly the teachers implemented the course training. I’d be interested to know whether this was due to the fact that they knew they were going to be observed and interviewed on it, as with all the pressures and things on our to-do list anyway, incorporating new ways of working and methodologies can sometimes end up at the bottom of the list, regardless of our good intentions.

So how can this help us in our classrooms? Well, the main conclusion was that self-reflection and teacher motivation are key but that also this relationship may not be as straightforward as we once thought as some teachers returned to traditional methods after having tried the new ones for a while. The authors put this down to a lack of self-confidence on the part of the teachers and to lower class performances after trying to implement the new strategies.

Three takeaways for our classrooms:

  • Teacher self-reflection
  • Teacher self-confidence
  • Knowing your students (and their limits)

Let’s take a look at each one in depth:

Teacher self-reflection

Self-reflection is hugely important in all areas of our lives. I believe most teachers reflect on each day or each week of what was achieved (or not achieved) in their classes and personally, at the end of the academic year, I always try and look back on the year as a whole. Some of the key questions I ask myself are: What went well? Where can I improve? What have I learnt during the academic year which I haven’t been able to implement yet? How can I serve my students better next year?

Teacher self-confidence

Don’t you always find it’s the groups or classes where you feel like you’re being most yourself where the kids interact and engage more? I had two very stark differences highlighted to me this year. Both classes were at the same academic level, both the same ages (teenagers) and both had the same amount of class hours and yet in one of the classes, I was able to connect with them well and do things which we all enjoyed (adapting the text book), in the other class, no matter how I tried to switch things up, gamify or approach teaching from different angles, I was still unable to connect with them. No guesses as to which ones have just aced their exams and which ones haven’t, which makes me terribly sad. I’m still trying to work out what I could have done better (self-reflection).

Or maybe, for you, it’s nothing to do with being yourself and more confidence in your use of English. I remember in my first year of teaching I was highly aware that when using my normal day-to-day speech mode, not everything I said was grammatically correct nor pronounced exactly right (debateable: me and my Yorkshire accent). I don’t let it stop me. You’re human, kids and adults will have no problem if you make mistakes. So chill! And also, importantly, no one accent (native or non-native) is more important than another. The students, in my opinion, need to be exposed to a wide variety of accents. (On a side note, it’s good for them to see you make mistakes every so often as it can enhance their confidence in not being worried about having to say absolutely everything correctly. Fear of failure and all that.)

Or there might be something else: the centre, personal feelings and so on. Whatever it is, this study makes it clear that our own confidence affects our students and their willingness to engage in L2.

Know your students

Nothing new here. Know your students and you can teach them better. Know your students and you can adapt texts to their interests. Know your students and you can just be there for them when they need it.

I always try on the first day of the academic year to do ice breakers and get to know you activities so that they mingle and I can understand their likes and dislikes, too. I finally completed a fantastic activity this week. On the first day of the academic year, I got each student to write a letter to themselves to be dated 1st June 2017 and then I put the letters away (I told them I would not read them, which I did not) and forgot about them. This week I took them out and distributed them around the classes. The kids’ faces (even the older ones) lit up when they remembered what we had done, they were even more thrilled when some of their predictions came true (Real Madrid winning The Champions League, for example) and even happier to realise how much progress they had made in writing this year. And I felt the trust between us improved as they hadn’t expected me to fulfil the promise to not read their letters.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small summary and comment on ‘Transforming professional learning into practice’. If you’d like to read the full article, take a look at the link in the reference section. And let’s all make a commitment to not make the graveyard of great conference ideas any bigger.

Reference:

Sahin, I & Yildirim, A, Transforming professional learning into practice, ELT Journal (2016) 70 (3): 241-252, Oxford University Press. (Link: https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article/70/3/241/1748709/Transforming-professional-learning-into-practice )

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