My attempt to do reflective practice challenge

Inspired by Zhenya Polosatova and John Pfordresher I’ve decided to challenge myself to improve my teaching by doing ELC (Experiential Learning Cycle) and I plan to do it the following way.

I will take into consideration one aspect of teaching which I’m concerned about and during some period of time (let’s say one month) I will describe, analyse and work on it in order to make my teaching more effective and also to create a habit of conscious teaching.

Starting from this week I’m going to work on setting tasks which is one of my weakest points in teaching.

Yesterday I had a grammar focused lesson on countability and expressing quantity in my Business English Upper-Intermediate group. There were only 2 students yesterday.

I am going to analyse a freer practice task setting.

Description

This is the task from the Business Result coursebook:

Work with a partner. Compare these situations using as many of the phrases in 3 as you can.

  • Working for a multinational company vs working for a small family firm
  • Communicating by email and text vs communicating face to face
  • Working with an experienced colleague vs working with a trainee

I’ve chosen to work with the third situation as an example anticipating possible difficulties with coming up with ideas or having strong biases towards the first option. So I described the situation asking students to imagine themselves in conditions of working closely with a colleague and questioning them whether it’s better to have an experienced person or a trainee. The students started to come up with ideas and they had a lot of them considering the situation from different points of view.

Then I gave other two situations to the students so that everyone has one situation to consider and they had 3-4 minutes to prepare. I also draw their attention to using target language. At ‘Teach’ stage they have chosen the words that were new for them or difficult to remember how to use it, so by the freer practice task they had all these ‘problem’ cards in front of them.

After that I asked one student to describe her situation and her point of view while another student was given a task to listen and say which points she agrees with. The first student used a lot of items of the target language though making some mistakes, I was nodding and noting the mistakes and good items in my notebook, another student was listening. When the talk was finished I asked another student for content feedback i.e. to answer the question and after that we listened to the second student with the first one having the same listening task. This time the target language was hardly used and by the feedback I found out that all the mistakes were from one and the same student. When we finished discussing I conducted language feedback where we paid attention to some difficult cases. I just wrote the issues with mistakes on the board actually.

Analysis

The task is not very communicative but it’s a topic for another analysis since I’m looking at setting tasks now. The problem was that one student didn’t use the target language a lot. It might have happened because she was too concentrated on the ideas and not focused on the language and also because we hadn’t used it in the example situation. That was a really big mistake. Another problem which came up during speaking concerns the mistakes which stems from poor controlled practice and though it’s not the problem of the task set up again, I think if I had set up a peer-evaluation task it might have become better.

Generalization

I’d prefer to have it in bullet points.

  • It’s important to monitor while students are preparing their ideas and remind about the language to be used or help to generate ideas if necessary
  • It might be a good idea to discuss how to use the target language before they start preparing, but it depends on the task and interaction patterns
  • Asking students to notice which of the target structures their partner have used and to note some mistakes (depending on students’ personalities – sometimes it’s a bad idea) might help to concentrate on the language and practice listening and correction which may lead to self-correction
  • It’s essential to work on the example in such a way that I want my students to work on their situations providing a good model of both content and language

Action points

  • Don’t forget to monitor and help, students might not have questions but they might be mistaken at the same time. It’s better to make sure once again that they are doing the task and using the language you want them to use
  • Work better on the examples and demos while preparing for lessons, don’t count on your ability to give a good example on the spot
  • If necessary elicit how to use the language you need to practice in the situations given
  • Try to implement peer-teaching and peer-correction if appropriate
  • Make tasks more communicative

 

PLEASE, please, please. If you see that I’m doing something wrong, or making some crazy senseless conclusions or anything like that – feel free to let me know in comments as I’m sure it will help me to become better. Or just write me something))) It will definitely be pleasant for me.

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8 thoughts on “My attempt to do reflective practice challenge

  1. Hi Kate

    It is so cool to read the way you approached the ELC and applied it to the situation in your own classroom. Just another proof that reflection is personal and can be in different formats, if and when needed.

    You mentioned at the beginning that ‘starting from this week I’m going to work on setting tasks which is one of my weakest points in teaching’. Does it mean that you will be working on this area in this Upper-Intermediate group, or in all the classes you have? Such a great idea, no matter what your answer is (brings system and organization to both teaching and reflection)

    You said that there were two students in that lesson (and I could see that one of them was a woman?) I am wondering if this happened just once (absent students due to holidays), or this is a usual class size for this group (I used to have a 1:2 lessons for a year with a company chief and his personal assistant) I am asking because sometimes, if this is not a usual set up of being in a ‘pair’ for the whole lesson, might be harder for students, and even influence the way they do your tasks? Just a thought/guess.
    Another (related?) question: are their level of English? Yes, both are Upper-Intermediate, but one could be much more fluent, and have better short-term memory, for example, or just think faster (about the ideas and the target language to use) and one needs more time. My attempt to add more reasons to the Analysis part.

    Finally, you said that ‘the task is not very communicative’ and later you set it as an action plan ‘to make tasks more communicative’ I am wondering if you meant the actual task in the course book, and were perhaps thinking how to modify it for the students? Might be a topic for a great blog post in the future, I think (as well as a ‘theme’ for experimenting in more than one group of students!)

    I am working on my own post on Generalizations and would love your feedback on that one!
    Zhenya

    • Dear Zhenya
      Thanks for such a helpful comment! I want to make my ELC structured and repetitive so that I get clear outcomes. I plan to do one or two reflections a week during one month regarding only one aspect of teaching where I have obvious problems. So, this month it’s task set up. Speaking about students, I want to try different groups but this week it’s the Upper-Intermediate business group. There are total 3 girls in the group but one is on holidays now. I guess they are quite used to talk to each other and in that case I didn’t have a very interactive task. Speaking about their level of English to my surprise the student who used a lot of target language is usually weaker. Another student is more fluent and has more sophisticated vocabulary. It brings me to the idea that stronger students might pay less attention to target language relying on the vocab they already know since it’s just easier. Thank you for helping me to analyze it in more depth.
      Making task more communicative is my action point since CELTA but I always forget about it while planning and I hope ELC will help me to make a habit of thinking about how communicative my tasks are. And it’s a really big topic to write about. What I meant by making the tasks more communicative is using the course book tasks in a more communicative way regarding my students’ needs. I have changed a bit the task from pair work to individual first and then a short discussion but I see that it was not a bright decision.
      Well, I have so many issues to work on and think about. It makes me encouraged and willing to work more)
      Thanks again for contributing into my improving as a teacher. I’m really interested to read your posts on reflecting practice!
      Kate

  2. Hi Kate

    Just read your comment and wanted to add one little thought. You wrote that ‘stronger students might pay less attention to target language relying on the vocab they already know since it’s just easier’. In fact, this is one belief I have about teaching higher level classes in Ukraine, and I guess our cultures are similar in this respect. I noticed that those students who are more independent and confident begin to be able to avoid learning new vocab, or taking any effort (for a number of reasons) and might need a reminder to actually use the target language. On the one hand, they are adults and it is their choice. On the other hands, we as teachers might think about how to create that motivation.

    I have been using the ELC for years but have never had such a productive discussion as in this RP Challenge. Enjoying every post and comment! 🙂

    • Zhenya,
      yes, the problem of motivation seems to be the most vibrant one, just judging by the amout of people constantly speaking about it. Might be a point for a challenge)
      Iэму been using the ELC for a couple of weeks and I’m just realizing what an immense help it may do in developing a teacher. Thanks for inspiring me!

      Kate

  3. Hi Kate,

    I think Zhenya has really been a wonderful partner in learning here and would second everything she has said so far.

    In addition, I wanted to comment on your final paragraph. We all may not have the same amount of experience or knowledge when it comes to reflective practice, we all CAN reflect. I’m not sure I believe there are any “wrong ways” to go, perhaps only better ways. And those better avenues are highlighted with time, experience, and —as Zhenya has shown so exquisitely—our peers thoughts and opinions.

    John

    • Dear John,

      I appreciate your words so much. I hope there are endless better ways and I can constantly improve my way of reflecting which will lead to successful lessons, happy students and my own self-satisfaction.
      Thanks for contributing!

      Kate

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