This is a page for explorations, thoughts and discussions related to my presentation at the 2014 KOTESOL National Conference.
Please jump to the end of this post to see what was actually talked about in the presentation(s)!
It is a presentation I have been dreaming about doing since I first started teacher training 5 years ago and I am very happy to have the chance to try it out.
Here is the abstract:
While on teacher training courses there are many “no-nos” trainees quickly learn to avoid. What if these habits are not so bad? What if there is a time and a place for them? What if some of the habits might actually be helpful for students? In this interactive session we will explore, re-examine, discuss and even defend some of these practices. A typical example of these behaviors is teachers (not) asking students, “Do you understand?” The session will begin with analysis of such teacher moves. With an emphasis on getting away from the simple and simplistic dichotomies of good and bad we will examine the reasons these moves are typically considered bad and then move on to considering reasons they might not be so bad and when they might be suitable or helpful. This session is intended for teachers of all experience levels as well as those involved with teacher training and development. Participants will ideally walk away with a sense of freedom to do consider using what are known as bad habits in class or at least a stronger conviction to avoid the “bad” behaviors.
Some ideas I have so far include:
- Asking, “Do you understand?” (Along with its cousins like, “OK?” and “Did you get it?”
- Teacher talking time
- Grading the text not the task
(meaning: Altering reading/listening material to make it easier for students instead of simply making the tasks easier)
- Giving reading/listening comprehensions after listening.
(Are there any good reasons not to do this?)
- Use of Ss’ L1 by the students or teacher in class.
- Ignoring Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences
- Ignoring ICQs and shunning frumious CCQs.
Some nicely crowdsourced ideas:
(with Twitter handles where available)
- Putting similarly leveled students together (thanks to @MrChrisJWilson)
- Translation (@ITLegge)
- “You MUST never spend more time talking than your students.” (via @DavidHarbinson)
- On the spot correction (@AnneHendler below in the the comments)
- Finishing sentences for students
(Are there times when this might be good or helpful or ok?)
- Your idea here.
Thanks so much to those of you who shared ideas! I appreciate it.
Any comments (including suggestions about what should be included) and questions welcome!
What was actually talked about
I had occasion to deliver a version of this presentation 3 times within the last month. I am not sure how not sure how helpful it is but here are my Powerpoint slides from the first time: KOTESOL doing it wrong (1). It was different each time (different audiences and contexts and such) but there were a few themes that emerged and some similar points were raised. I enjoyed doing this presentation (read: workshop/discussion) for a variety of reasons and one of them was how the audience was very heavily involved and seemed to be taking stock on their beliefs in each of the sessions. It was even better when the received wisdom and accepted bad things were called into question. Below I briefly share some thoughts on how certain things discussed might not be soooo bad.
Asking “Do you understand?”
Well, it might not be the best or more efficient way for teachers to find out information about students understanding what has been said but it is a usual question in English, right? It is a normal and natural way to ask in non-classroom settings. If the teacher asks this question about an activity they will find out soon enough if students have understood. My new thought on this one is that there has been more hand-wringing, self-flagellation, fear, and negative trainer feedback and requisite discussions and defenses on this one than required. Of course it it not super useful or efficient but it is not terrible.
Oh the dreaded TTT. Teacher Talking Time. To paraphrase (from memory) Hugh Dellar, “If TTT is so bad why are people at the front of the room at a conference telling me about how bad it is?” Surely they should be conveying this message in a different manner if talking is so bad. I think TTT has (perhaps justifiably) gotten a bad rap but I also think it is just too simple and simplistic to make blanket statements about all TTT all being bad. Of course there are different types of teacher talk and maybe we should be considering QTTT (quality teacher talking time) and not being overly prescriptive and simple about this. We might also consider the teacher’s (potential) role of providing input as well. While we are here, where did this “80% of class should be STT and 20% max should be TTT” rule? How does that even make sense without accounting for context or anything?
L1 in class (from either students or teachers)
In all the talks I did this one didn’t seem controversial, meaning everyone thought it was fine and has been improperly labelled as bad. Some (mostly non-Korean) teachers mentioned they are expected by admin to use English only but seem to say they thought it was fine to use Korean as needed and warranted. I was expecting a bit more pushback on this but everyone I talked to considered this to be a useful tool at times and something valuable when used in moderation. Maybe times are changing?
My thought here was that as teachers we are often overly concerned with “face” and embarrassing students and students want, need and expect feedback from their teachers. One idea I heard a few times was about not interrupting during fluency tasks but being sure to correct things that have been taught or are very important or related to the target language of the day. Another interesting idea from discussions on this was about students not really remembering such corrections well. I made the argument this might not really matter and just the fact the teacher is giving corrections (and thus listening) might impact student performance in the future. In the sessions there was a lot of talk about the manner in which corrections are given as well as the rapport between teacher and students, and perhaps more importantly students and students. Lots to think about here and hopefully the takeaway is/was that hot correction can be fine.
Echo, echo, echo….
I couldn’t mount a very strong defense of echoing, the teacher repeating what a student said. I think it is often a habit teachers develop. I said sometimes it might not be so bad and depending on the situation the teacher might choose to say loudly what one student had said rather than insisting the student say it louder for the benefit of all the other students.
Forgetting or Forgoing ICQs
A while back I wrote a post called, “The Cult of ICQs” that says pretty much what I’d like to say here. I think it can be very easy to get wrapped up in the thought instruction checking questions are a requirement each time instructions are given and not just a pretty good way to check if students have understood instructions. I have heard and asked a boatload of crappy ICQ questions when it seemed the teacher was asking questions because he/she had to rather than using the questions to gather information.
The consensus seemed to be that silence is not bad at all and is often good and necessary. It also seemed like the fear of silence is the root of a lot of teaching acts teachers don’t want to be doing. For example, teachers talk more than they want to in order to fill the silence. This might include repeating or restating their instructions or questions because they don’t like the feeling or Sound of Silence.
Teaching Grammar/Using Grammatical Terms or Metalanguage
The concept of this stuff as bad seems to have some pull. Maybe it is more common in Korea where students get a very full diet of grammar anyway so many teachers are looking to step away from this. Just a thought. The other thought something about the teachers known as native teachers being intimidated by grammar and thus deeming it bad and a waste of time. Again, just a thought.
Some topics that came up that might be worth considering in terms of lack of badness include, Translation Tasks, PPP (this is a nice article on PPP by the way.) Some topics I had no intention of defending were corporal punishment, and PowerPoint Overload (of course these are different in terms of the impact and degree of badness!).
Finally, I’d like to share and comment on some thoughts from two different attendees. After the session on attendee said something like, “It is all very general, isn’t it? It all depends on so many things so it is very general. Thanks anyway, I enjoyed it.” I wondered about the use of the word “general” here because my take is that context is very important and the simple rules against such teacher moves are not so helpful after a point. I’d say it’s the opposite of general and that is part of the reason moving beyond these rules is important. I think the problem is that the rules are general and we need to make our decisions. Tools get interpreted as rules and prescriptions are made without considering context and this is the problem. Another participant (in a different session, actually) said, “It seems to me that if everything is ok in class and rapport is good and you don’t base your whole lesson on one of these bad things then it is not really going to be a big deal to do them once or once in a while.” I couldn’t agree more.