How often do you find yourself in a learning space? Aside from your classroom, I mean. I took last month’s Advanced Course with John Fanselow, and many wonderful fellow explorers, on iTDi and found myself right there, in the learning zone. The invitation to Rethink usually works for me and it worked this time too. Even though I decided to join the course just before it started, even though I took my time with it, it was the right choice and I’m so happy I did.
On with the discoveries…
In the crust of things
Teaching grammar and vocabulary separately really doesn’t make much sense, and making it work in our classes can be challenging for several reasons. The teaching context and the learning culture of ourselves and our students play a big part. As teachers, most of us have learned to abide by certain rules, which very often transform into routines we shape our students into. Some students, depending on the culture, expect those routines, even. Our own language awareness and training are vital.
Working through the course, two things got me (re)thinking about how I teach: 1. the alternative suggestions and 2. John Fanselow’s frequent silence, which encouraged our own thoughts to form and interaction among participants to take place. I actually wrote down ‘silent way-skip the rods’ in my notes (yes, I keep notes on anything I do). I’m rethinking that note now.
I’ve had the opportunity to explore the various activities suggested during the course with different level students and in different contexts. I felt lucky to have such a variety to work with as a teacher, since teaching for me is not confined within a class or a school; it happens indoors and outdoors, with teens, with young adults, with university students, with professionals. What made an impression on me were the common elements in each of these teaching opportunities: student resourcefulness, interaction and collaboration – the teacher observing, offering assistance where necessary and assessing. Whether it was an original text we were using or a very specific piece for exam preparation, the results were more or less the same. And why do I keep writing third or sometimes fourth in the line of activities when it can offer so much right from the beginning? My own perception and possibly fear of burdening my students, which just wasn’t the case, they were all quite comfortable to listen, think, read, write and talk, regardless of which came first.
On observing myself
-Time is what it is, what it has been appointed to be. Becoming obsessed with it, as I often do, gets you nowhere. There is time for everything you want to do, everything your students would like to do, for everything you are supposed to do together. It takes some planning and some experience, true. It also takes some open-mindedness and willingness to make things work. Even as I signed up for the course I kept thinking that my time was limited, that I wouldn’t be able to follow. Obviously, I got that wrong. So accept time, plan better and move forward.
-I appreciate theories when I can do something with them. Having a series of activities I could plan around, use and observe in action was refreshing and essential. Having the opportunity to then go back, share what I observed, thought and felt and get feedback, made all the difference.
-Strive even more for student independence. The notion that teachers are mighty know-it-all’s has never found me in agreement. Since my first day in a class I’ve been a motivator, a guide, an observer. I think it’s partly because of that approach that I altered and extended coursebook activities when I was obliged to use them and why authentic material and no material became my main tools in later years. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with coursebooks, not all of them at least. A lot of work goes into them and they serve their purpose often. If I’m not comfortable with my material, however, why should my students be comfortable in learning with me? When they feel at ease, when they know that lessons happen for all of us involved to achieve something, students are open to exploration and they soon realise that learning is an ongoing, lifelong task each of us goes through. Using them, their own experiences and background, can unlock the door to exceptional lessons that a textbook cannot plan or deliver.
-Working and learning within a community is the greatest experience. I didn’t comment on everything other participants wrote in the discussion forum, but I read and reread all contributions and there was so much to keep from each. There is a certain quality in the variety of personalities and teaching contexts and a heart-warming beauty in interactions with all of them. Something difficult to find elsewhere.
In spite of my initial thoughts, I followed and still follow everything, lived exciting moments with my students, learned and practiced so much, broke the circle of routine and feel really proud to have received this:
Had I not been so fixated on time or the supposed lack of it, I would have gone for (and I’d like to think would have got) a Certificate with Accomplishment. Well, that’s for the next course(s), as iTDi have an amazing series planned for the months to come.
A big thank you to the iTDi family (and faculty) for making this happen, and especially to John Fanselow and my fellow learners.