Just being there…#TeacherHub Discussions

It’s the first steps in March and things are on the whole going well. So well, it’s almost scary. There has been a lot of work and preparations in the background and it hit me once again that I haven’t posted for a very, very long time. I’ve been writing, yet not sharing. Somehow it seems I’m only just beginning to accept how much of a slow learner I am.

I keep going back to the posts on the blog, either because someone re-shares them or I happen to notice a “spike” in stats (thanks WordPress). And I can’t help but feel overwhelmed – not because of numbers, there are some 70 or so posts here – but because it’s a pretty weird feeling to see what you’ve actually been sharing. There’s always the urge of self-correction, but then again, each post represents a moment in time, how could anyone correct that? Though it is ultimately comforting to accept yourself exactly as you are, there is a constant self-doubt that emerges, somewhat unnoticed. Which is fine. We certainly know very little about the world around us and accepting that is a brilliant first step to becoming better.

Just a couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend – a heavily burdened friend who I hold very close to heart for a number of reasons – and he kept talking about his place in the world, how he sees no reason whatsoever to stand and talk and do. I couldn’t pinpoint what was actually bothering me; his desperation, his lack of confidence, or perhaps my own inadequacy in helping him. He mentioned my persistent, stubborn take on positivity and how he finds that impossible and all I could answer was that I’m positive because I have a choice, as we all do. This choice, however, is not something simple, and I have no recipes to make it happen. We cannot shape the choices of others, not if we care for them, in my view. Everyone deserves to go on their journey, see what they can see, ask when they want to know, be who they wish to be – we can be there for them, that’s all. And this conversation led me to thinking further about the learners trusted to me – do I do enough to give them the space to be themselves? In theory, yes. I don’t feel happy in the know-it-all teacher shoes. But is that enough?

Probably not. The idea that we know and they don’t is something puzzling to me. We all know things, from different perspectives perhaps, but at a given time we know and we won’t easily give up on what we know – why should we? Being open to suggestions and advice is a very different thing, it doesn’t challenge exactly what you know, but rather the way you perceive the things you know. The more these thoughts twirl in my head, the more I think basing lessons on the people I work with matters. Is that a revelation? Well, no. As an educator, what I find most significant is to sit quietly and guide when I can. It has nothing to do with what I see fits best, because most of the times I’m not sure what fits best. The day-to-day interactions depend on who I’m working with –  and I’m blessed with a variety.

That’s more or less what I shared in last week’s TeacherHub and was greeted with silence. Even though at first this silence appeared as an obstacle, as a wall I’d managed to build up between myself and our Hub, it turned out that similar thoughts were running through each of our heads – only we couldn’t put them to words. Looking around the room, I could see those same thoughts on my Hubbers faces and stances, so it felt more efficient, applicable and awesome to put each thought to action. Show each other what our vision or fear looks like.

Maybe we should set our minds on recording those meetings. I mean, it’s nearly impossible for me to portray in writing everything we have experienced. In brief, very – very – brief, here are some of our trails:

  • We need a certain amount of standing, sitting down and moving around during class, listed from less to most. The most responsive and productive seems to be the moving around, the involvement in each instance.
  • Listening is easy. Comprehending is difficult. Adjusting practice and material based on what we observed always involves the danger of becoming too leading. (Reflecting on balance is next month’s task).
  • Music is crucial to all of us. Let’s choose a playlist for class.
  • Learning to keep silent -or unlearning to dominate discussions – is a huge challenge. Let’s just let them talk.
  • Involve them. Yes, how? We all come into lesson with one issue or another, let’s use that. No, we can’t have pre-prepared material for every single topic. Yes, we can modify – it’s our plan, after all, and it might as well go out the window when we notice that one sparkle in their eyes.
  • Our presence means something. Usually something different from what we expect. Often something we fail to notice. Can we practise in this?

Those Hub meetings, I love. Just being there.

Leading to #independence; From students to #Lifelong learners

”Students keep asking me, how do I do this? But I’ve just explained it, for like the third time.”

”They get excited when I show something on the whiteboard, but it’s only for about as long as the class lasts. If I ask any questions on that picture or link a couple of weeks later, it’s like we’ve never touched on the subject.”

”I want my students to start taking initiatives when it comes to learning. Sometimes I feel that if I’m not around, they won’t be able to communicate in English – even the high-achievers in my classes.”

Do the above ring any bells? They all come from colleagues, hard-working EFL teachers with whom I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on various projects. And I’ve thought of those words myself numerous times.
I’m certainly not an expert of any description; I’m just curious. I’ll press my nose into anything and I want my students to do the same. But how?
Here are the first six steps I try and take for each of my lessons to assist my students in taking learning into their own hands:

– Get comfortable
If your class doesn’t feel like home, it can’t work. Devote some time to getting your classroom as you want it and leave some room for what your students want. We’re all learning together, so we should all feel comfortable.

– Know your students
And do so in a fun way: The ”Lie detector”, my personal favourite. A nice ice breaker which can be used with students at all levels and age groups: ”Write three sentences on the board about you, 2 are true, and 1 will be a lie. […] Embellish the details slightly and write some sentences that the students wouldn’t be likely to guess. Depending on the level of the students, the students can then ask questions about the topics of the three statements of the teacher to determine the lie. BUT, the hook to this game is that YOU, the teacher, may lie verbally to the students in your response, and the students must play the role of a lie detector and figure out which sentence is a porky pie”  – you can find a full description and more ice breakers on BusyTeacher.

– (Re)learn to play.
Turn your class into a game, have students play with words and join in. I’ve used several different ways to integrate gaming in my lessons and so far, none has failed. Whether it’s a simple word game like hangman, a game-based assessment system or a fully developed computer game, it works. Firstly, because we all have fun and secondly, because we do things the way we choose.

– Give them tools, not just answers.
After we’ve all got comfortable, I share the following presentation with my students and ask them to try out those tools and decide what suits them. Integrating technology is not the easiest task you’ll have to tackle, but it can be one of the most rewarding.

Learning together - My toolbag

–  Build on curiosity

Remember that students are not mute. They have opinions, questions and a lot to contribute. Let them lead from time to time and work with them on what they care about.
Something I’ve found very helpful, is introducing the ”can of words”. It can be an actual can, or a virtual one. It’s where students keep at least three words they have found interesting each week and with which they have to produce sentences to share with their classmates. We often try storytelling, using everyone’s sentences together. It’s always a good idea to have your own can of words as a teacher – it keeps both you and your students motivated; and much like the can of worms, it’s difficult to close once you’ve opened it!
CanOfWords– Don’t tell them; show them.
Find what suits YOU best and share with your students. A video? A song? A poem perhaps? Make it visual, make it sound different, make it yours and theirs. Patti Smith once said ‘I came into music because I thought the presentation of poetry wasn’t vibrant enough. So I merged improvised poetry with basic rock chords.” Make your lessons vibrant and unforgettable by merging your students’ interests, your own ideas and every tool available.

Learning doesn’t begin and end in a classroom.  There shouldn’t be an on/off switch. Make it happen by understanding and using anything that works; if you can lead your learners to independence, it will last forever.