But what if we’re wrong?

Well, everyone knows extensive reading is the best way to acquire vocabulary. What this post presupposes is… maybe it isn’t?

eli cash

Please note this post has little to do with extensive reading. It’s more about beliefs and changing beliefs and temporally suspending our beliefs or imagining we didn’t have them or had different ones.

Teachers have their beliefs and presumably (but of course not always) take actions in accordance with these beliefs. I think teacher beliefs are a good thing. I think talking about them is a good thing. I also think it’s always worth remembering that they are just beliefs. I feel like acknowledging our beliefs as just beliefs (and not facts) is a useful tool when thinking about our teaching..

My sense is teachers are not often asked to consider or articulate the beliefs they have. In Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers Graves notes, “Most teachers don’t have opportunities make their beliefs explicit  because the institutions in which they work do not generally ask them to articulate their beliefs not do they place a value on such articulation.” (p 26) I wonder if this sounds familiar or matches your experiences, dear reader.

I think giving time to discuss, revisit, and evaluate our beliefs can be an important and valuable step in professional development. Graves suggests it doesn’t happen often in workplaces and I would also suggest it doesn’t happen often in face-to-face professional development meetings like conferences. either. I could be wrong but that is just my sense.

I feel like in workshops and the like it might be a good idea to give participants a chance to consider and articulate their beliefs while creating non-threatening chances to consider, reconsider, and evaluate those beliefs. Of particular importance, I think, is creating an atmosphere of discovery so people don’t feel pushed to change anything at the risk they might become even more entrenched in the beliefs. Even though they are “just beliefs” it can be hard to let them go without a fight. My idea is that giving people a place and space to explore teaching beliefs (whether or not these beliefs have been articulated previously) can be helpful for teachers.

A nice, if not particularly new place (and if you have another suggestions I’d love to hear them) to get started on thinking and talking about beliefs is this questionnaire adapted from  The ELT curriculum: Design, Innovation and Management by Ronald V. White:

  1. Language is a system of grammatical rules.
  2. Vocabulary is the most important part of a language.
  3. Language is basically establishing and maintaining social relationships. Language learning is best promoted through using the language in authentic situations in the classroom.
  4. Meaning is best conveyed through translation between the target language and the mother tongue.
  5. There is no transfer from one skill to another when learning a language.
  6. Language learning is best when the focus is on something other than the language itself.
  7. A syllabus should take students’ wants and interests into account even when these are different from their needs.
  8. A syllabus should be based on known areas of difficulty in grammar and pronunciation.
  9. A syllabus should be based on the students’ communicative needs outside the classroom.
  10. The teacher must teach to the test since exam results affect students’ future choices.
  11. The teacher must encourage collaboration to help facilitate learning.
  12. The teacher must correct students’ errors at all times.
  13. The teacher must remain in full control of the class at all times.
  14. The teacher must avoid deviating from the syllabus, the lesson plan, or the textbook.
  15. Students need to be kept active and interested by the teacher.
  16. Students usually do not know what’s good for them.
  17. Students achieve best in a competitive atmosphere.
  18. Students pick up mistakes from one another, so all language in the class must be controlled and checked by the teacher.
  19. Spontaneous interaction helps students to learn to communicate.
  20. Students in a language class feel very vulnerable and sensitive.
    (pp 158-162)

I think we can expand on and enhance discussions of our beliefs by considering what it would mean for our teaching  if we didn’t have the beliefs we have. Even further, to the extent that beliefs can be “wrong” what if our strongest held beliefs are found to be “wrong?” What would be different? What if we wake up tomorrow and it’s discovered, for example, Learning Styles are (or are not, I guess) really a thing and our teaching should (or shouldn’t) be guided by them? How would your teaching change? What would it mean for your classes? What would it mean if suddenly your beliefs were the opposite of what they are now?

I think this type of examination can lead to some powerful insights. As luck would have it, this very topic and mental exercise will be the basis of my upcoming session at the KOTESOL RPSIG Day of Reflection” on Sept 30. It promises to be an interesting and insight producing day, so if you have a chance, I’d recommend coming along.

Day of Reflection 2017 Poster  iv.jpg


Finally, here is my abstract in case you are into that sort of thing.

But what if we are wrong? 

Uncovering beliefs, articulating them, reflecting upon them, and considering how they (or how they don’t or might better) translate into action in the classroom can be extremely valuable for teacher development. In this interactive session, we will explore and consider some of our more tightly held beliefs. Part of this exploration will be bringing our beliefs to the light of day and examining where they come from and what purpose they serve. Part of this exploration will be to imagine the beliefs we hold dear are simply “wrong.” What would that mean for us? How might our beliefs being “wrong” be impact our classroom practices and ourselves as teachers? These are the types of questions that will be considered and discussed in the workshop. Participants can expect to walk away with a better understanding of their beliefs or a sense of confusion and a series of questions to consider.

And yes, the title was totally “borrowed” from Chuck Klosterman’s book of the same name. I’d say this book is worth reading.



  1. Marc

    Nice post, Mike.

    I’m interested in teachers’ beliefs, especially teachers less prone to reflect or critically evaluate their own practice. To what extent do these beliefs become entrenched? To what extent do teachers having beliefs challenged adopt a siege mentality?

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comment and support Marc. I am also very interested in this idea of beliefs getting more entrenched. I can’t complain to be an expert on this but I feel like a key aspect is not demanding any change but just offering the chance to think about things and creating the room to change if someone wants but not pushing this.

      I am thinking about some moments I’ve had in teacher training when the whole part was to raise awareness with a mind to changing beliefs. Sometimes, I think, this acted to help people close off and dig their heels in. My sense is that this idea of telling people what to think is not often going to work but rather just questioning and giving time and space and permission to change is the key. I realize it all sounds very vague. I think that’s because it’s not really easy.

      These days I suppose I am more concerned with helping people isolate and articulate their beliefs which could perhaps be a good first step. I hope I am making some amount of sense.

      Thanks again for the response!

  2. robertjdickey

    Brilliant Mike. I agree. One problem is that when people are invited to share their beliefs, somebody has to start challenging others. Then the defenses are raised and we get the opposite results. Hope you get this through well.
    Sept 30 is the Saturday starting Korea’s “10 day hoidays.” Though technically not a holiday, I hope my grad students convince the school not to have classes that day, so I can join you!

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments and the support Rob! Much appreciated. It will be great if you can make it on the 30th.
      The timing is interesting as it is in the middle of SUPER CHUSEOK.
      I will see if me students are interested in having class on Monday but will have to see how it goes.

      Regarding the “entrenchment” that Marc and I talk about a bit above, I think you are right that defenses and hackles can be raised. My hope (and belief!) is that if and when it’s just an imaginary exercise where we have to consider the opposite the sting of disagreement is sort of taken away. Since we are all just playing along and there is no room or reason to attack beliefs people have then it might open things up for deeper discussion. That is the hope at least. I think the conceit of imagining the opposite opens up the space for thinking “these are just beliefs and they can be changed” without putting one person in charge of changing the beliefs of others. Just writing this and thinking about this reminded me of an interesting experience and I think I might blog about it! Thank you for spurring this on.

      I hope your term is off to a nice start! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. M. Makino

    I thought while I was in Japan that professional license, ie the assumption of competence, was a significant barrier to introspection among English teachers. Now I’m sort of in the same position they were. Glad I still have the blogosphere to keep me from getting too confident that my professional bona fides guarantee I know how to teach.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the response, Mark! It sounds like a blog post is brewing in here! 🙂

      I think this assumption of competence is an interesting thing. I am not really sure how much I see this in Korea.
      Maybe it’s something like a double edged sword where the expectation of competence can come just from the L1 but deep down inside students and admin don’t expect much competence. Maybe I have misunderstood or gone too far. 🙂

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