Second Reflective Practice Post and some disappointment

My second reflective practice blog is going to show that it’s difficult for me to learn from my own mistakes.

Description

I had a case study lesson with my Upper-Intermediate Business Group consisting currently of 2 people.

The task from the coursebook is:

Work in groups of four.

1. Establish the current situation for Cyclepods Ltd. (we have already read a text about the company’s situation).

2. Individually, or with a partner, decide what you think the company should do to resolve its cash-flow crisis and increase its profit margin. Prepare your arguments and be ready to give your opinions.

3. Choose one person to lead the discussion. As a group, discuss all the options you think the company has. (I need to mention here that we covered functional exponents for leading and participating in decision-making discussions 2 lessons before).

4. Decide on two best options and present them to the class.

5. Have a class vote to decide on the best option for the company.

6. Turn to File 12 on page 139 to find out how the company actually resolved its situation.

Before approaching this task we read about the company and discussed its strengths and weaknesses, unique selling point, target market and current problems as an open class. So we did point one in the task.

Then I told the students that they are going to be external consultants invited to the company to help to avoid the crisis and they need to discuss possible solutions. My instructing turned out to be a long speech describing the situation. I wanted students to turn to each other and start pouring their ideas and discussing them energetically, but what happened was that one student turned to me and started suggesting something. As I wanted them not to tell me what they think but to share opinions with each other and discuss it together I had to tell them to imagine that I wasn’t there and to turn to the partner. It actually helped and they started to discuss the problem together.

I had to distract them to put their ideas on the board so that we had visual support for the next task.

Of course, the students didn’t use the phrases we had learned before because I forgot to remind them to do it (looks like a bit of analysis here).

When they had no more ideas I asked them to choose 2 best options for the company and they discussed it and came up with 2 ideas.

Then I asked them whether they were interested to know what the company actually did and getting the affirmative answer I told them to go to File 12 and see what was suggested and what outcomes they got. I asked students to comment on how close their own ideas were to the experts’ suggestions and whether or not they were surprised by the results.

In feedback we discussed whether it was difficult or not for them and students commented that it was difficult since they don’t understand much in marketing or finance.

How I felt

I became really nervous when I realized that I’d forgotten to draw the students’ attention to the necessity of using the target language and it led to being angry with myself. I also felt quite awkward when I had to tell them to speak to each other not to me and when I interrupted them to put the ideas on the board. And of course at the end I wasn’t satisfied with myself at all.

How students felt

The students might have felt uneasy in unfamiliar topic and maybe kind of stupid when I stop them to tell them to do something in another way.

Analysis

1) So, the first problem I see here is that the students didn’t use the language I wanted them to use. Obviously it happened because I forgot to remind them about it. Why did I forget to do it? I suppose, because I was unsure how the following stages would go since I hadn’t thought them over very thoroughly at home because while I was preparing at home they seemed quite easy and actually only at the lesson I realized that I can’t do it as I had planned.

2) Another problem was that the students didn’t have a lot of ideas though the ones they had were great, the process of thinking and finding the ideas turned out to be quite hard. During the feedback the students told me it was difficult for them. I think the reason is that it wasn’t the sphere they feel comfortable in and since they work in other departments and deal with other situations it’s difficult to find some solutions in 10 minutes. And I was told millions of times that before giving an activity to the students I must make sure they know what to say and how to say it. What’s the matter with me then???

3) Students didn’t feel comfortable speaking to each other and ignoring me probably because of traditional understanding of the role of a teacher. They are not used to speaking to each other without any role-play task, dialogues or something like that. I’ve come to understanding that they rarely interact to each other without any tasks, just to agree or disagree or ask each other about something, I mean, without any task. This conclusion is a real eye-opener for me. At CELTA my tutor gave me a positive feedback about letting students interact with each other naturally. But I did it only when it happened by chance without my encouraging (just one student started to disagree with another and a small open class discussion emerged). Now I see that if I had encouraged natural conversation more in my current group they would feel comfortable to speak to each other in English all the time and even without a task, without me asking them to speak. My DoS recommended me once to include myself into the discussion with the same or similar role, not as a teacher. I might want to implement it but it has also some drawbacks like students still keeping their attention on me not on each other and also me taking their time to speak. But its great benefit is that the whole situation stops being a classroom situation when a teacher stops being a teacher – that leads to the conversation becoming natural. What do you think about this idea?

4) One more problem is that the description of the task was long. It happens to me quite often. I want to describe a situation to provide students with all the necessary information for them to imagine themselves in the situation. As a result students look a bit puzzled. So, it makes me conclude that too much information isn’t good for their understanding.

5) And one more problem I see is that I had to distract them to create visual support for the next task. If I had created the lesson differently I think I would have had one student leading the discussion and taking notes of the ideas and it would eliminate the problem.

Generalizations

1) During preparation for the lessons it is a good idea to anticipate problems and think about solutions. Not to neglect this point it might be reasonable to set aside about 10 mins to be spent on this – at CELTA it saved almost all of my lessons but having more than 25 hours a week I started to ignore this.

2) I believe that it’s worthwhile to offer students tasks which they are able to do, to ask them for ideas which they have and provide necessary help if you are not sure about it.

3) I believe that it is really important to encourage real conversation between students which can make them feel in their element to speak English at any time and not to feel controlled by a teacher in the classroom.

4) To set a task easily and resulting in students’ complete understanding of the situation I need to be brief and it might be a good idea to elicit something from them which will enable me to see that the situation is clear for them and it’ll definitely help more to tune them into the task.

5) I think here comes the case of anticipating problems again, so see the action point #1.

Action points

1) When you finished preparing for a lesson spend 10 mins anticipating problems and creating solutions. Or do it while preparing for each stage of your lesson.

2) Ask myself whether my students have something to say about it. If no, either offer them some hints and ideas already prepared to discuss and chose the best ones (if the activity is really good) or forget about this activity.

3) To encourage natural speaking I’ll ask students to talk to each other more often and I’m going to do something else at that time (prepare the board for the next task – that was an idea offered by my DoS for a bit another purpose but it fits perfectly I think); I’ll offer students more debatable topics and ask them to discuss them together and tell me their final decision only; I’ll try to distance from the students physically by going to another side of the room. And I’ll also google it – there might be some other suggestions. If you have any other ideas – let me know PLEASE!!!

4) Setting a task elicit as much as you can and be brief.

Some analysis of what has changed since the first reflective practice post:

Nothing(

Actually the task was more communicative, I fortified it with some follow-up questions just to chat about the topic, so I can say that in this action point I’ve made a step forward.

Monitoring wasn’t applicable since they were just speaking and I was sitting just opposite them and listening to them.

I’ve started to think whether an example or demo could help, but it looks like it would look strange for such a simple task.

Elicit the language they need for the task was a good idea in my previous post – why didn’t I do it the second time??? That’s a mystery for me(

About peer-teaching and peer-correction – looks like it wasn’t very necessary to do it in this task. Even after thinking about it for some time I find it unnecessary.

Well, that’s pretty it. I like the process of doing ELC immensely.

If you have any comments, suggestions, ideas, you’ve spotted some other problems or mistakes – I’ll be happy to read it all.

And I also would like to thank David Harbinson, Zhenya Polosatova, Anne Hendler, John Pfordresher, Anna Loseva, Hana Ticha, Josette LeBlanc for inspiring, helping, leading and sharing. It’s great help and you might be contributing in a good teacher in the future (I hope)))

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11 thoughts on “Second Reflective Practice Post and some disappointment

  1. Dear Kate,

    What you described in your post is something every teacher experiences at some point in his/her career. Mind you, it doesn’t mean that only novices make these kinds of ‘mistakes’. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I can totally relate to everything you say in your post.
    1) From time to time, I still forget to remind my students to use the target language. As a result I feel guilty because my fault spoils the whole activity.
    2) Like you, I sometimes forget to make sure that students have plenty of ideas to discuss because for some reason I take it for granted that they know what to talk about. And this is, I believe, the biggest danger at any point and in any teaching situation: ‘taking things for granted’. Each time I felt too self-assured, I was warned.
    3) I occasionally provide confusing information and talk for too long when giving instructions. When I eventually shut my mouth, I realize what I’ve done and feel angry with myself.
    These things just happen, no matter how long you’ve been teaching. Even when you plan your lesson thoroughly, things still go wrong for various reasons. But I think you are a great teacher, totally aware of your advantages and flaws. You are on the right track and you realize what to do to fix things that don’t seem to work well. Apparently, you are very honest and open about your feelings, which helps the reader to see the whole picture clearly. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

    Hana

    • Dear Hana,

      Thanks a lot for your extremely supportive words. It is really motivating to read what you’ve written and I think I’ll come back to this comment when I need some encouragement.
      You know, while learning teaching I expect becoming better and when I make some mistakes which I might have thought about beforehand and I’m aware they may occur it drives me really crazy making me feel like the whole learning and practicing time has been spent in vain. Of course I understand that teaching implies uncertainty and we need to be flexible and a lot depends on students and their needs and so on. But I wholeheartedly want to see my students make progress and be unwilling to leave the classroom. I hope I’m on my way and I’m sure that having so many creative and open and innovative colleagues around the world contributes to my development a lot. I’m so happy that I’m doing it.
      Thanks again for sharing your feelings.

      Kate

  2. Hi Kate,
    In my experience, students often don’t get to choose to do Business English – their bosses choose for them. Often the bosses choose because the DoS recommends it – language schools charge more for Business English courses. Business English coursebooks are, as a rule, general – they cover a whole range of topics and you can be sure that there’s always going to be a unit on marketing, one on finance, one on international trade, etc. The students can’t possibly know enough about all these areas to always hold enthusiastic meetings. For instance, if you have a group consisting mainly of people from the accounts department, they are unlikely to be much into advertising and won’t know about USP’s and the 4 P’s – and they won’t care very much either. Again, this is based on my experience, and it also may be a cultural thing; this is likely to be the case in Croatia.
    So, what tends to happen is you have a case study in which students need to discuss how to generate cash flow – are you using Market Leader, btw? – and your students either have no experience or interest in the topic. This isn’t always the case, but it happens often enough.
    I don’t know how flexible your school is about this, but I think it might be worth trying to move away from the book, at least when it comes to case studies. Which sector is this company in? If it’s telecommunications, for instance, try doing a case study based on a telecoms company. If your functional language is the language of meetings, they’ll still get to practice it, but on a topic closer to home. If the meeting was meant to also incorporate specific target vocabulary, don’t worry about that – you’ll revise it another time. Again, in my experience, learning new vocab tends to be the easiest part of the course, especially for B2 learners.
    To encourage natural speaking, try copying a couple of short articles on an A4 paper, so it looks like a page out of a newspaper. These should be interesting – you know what your students like – and short – you don’t want to get hung up on new vocabulary which isn’t going to be in the test. (They can always look it up on their own later.) Tell them that you’re going to read a newspaper while you have a coffee, and then pick one article to chat about as you would if you were having a coffee and reading a paper with a colleague. Tell the students what the article is about and ask a question or two about it to generate discussion. Get each student to do the same. Next time they should start instead of you. You can use this 10-minute activity as a warmer or in the middle of your session – whenever and as often as it suits you, and I’m assuming that with 2 people in a B2 group you’re not behind schedule.
    I now realize this is almost a post in itself! I hope some of it is helpful, at least. Good luck with the rest of the course!

    • Dear Vedrana,

      Wow! I’m impressed and grateful for spending time writing so much.
      What you say about Business English courses is right, you never fit perfectly the interests and expertise of your students doing everything a coursebook says. Sometimes when it’s obvious that the topic is difficult for them I use the possible answers written in the teacher’s book suggesting them as hints to my students. I’m lucky to have Business Result, I like this book most of all.
      Speaking about the choice of courses it might vary from company to company but in my language centre we don’t have any difference between General and Business English. Quite often students learn English because working in international companies they need it for everyday communication and professional development. This very group I write about is in BMW.
      I think you’re awfully right that sometimes it’s better to skip or substitute a case study which doesn’t appeal to the students’ needs at all. The only thing I worry about in terms of learning vocabulary is that they know the words and can understand them but they don’t become active vocabulary since they might not have had enough chance to use it.
      As regards your suggestion about encouraging natural speaking, it looks engaging and real. I’ll definitely try it in my classroom.
      Thank you a lot for wonderful recommendations! It will be useful by all means!
      Kate

  3. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and reflection using the ELC framework. It’s really great to see how you have approached it. I really don’t think you need to feel any disappointment at all. As Hana mentioned, even if you’ve been teaching for years, you still make little mistakes like this. I regularly find myself forgetting little things. In fact it doesn’t always have to be negative. A few times I have forgotten to mention something, and have observed that my students have interpreted what I wanted them to do in a slightly different way, which was actually better/more effective.

    Your teaching situation sounds very similar to mine. I do a lot of small classes, usually 2 or 3 students per class. My students also have to learn ‘business English, unfortunately a lot of them are university students and don’t have a clue about business, so it can be quite a challenge, but that’s another story.

    One thing that I have found can help to get my students interacting together more effectively, and not looking to me as much, is having a very definite start to the communication/role play. So what I do is at the very beginning of the activity have the students stand up, go out of the classroom and then come back in again. I have found that by doing this, the students get into ‘role play’ mode much more easily and it can help them to realise that this stage of the class is not the same as the preceding part, where the teacher was there to help and be involved. It doesn’t always work, but it certainly seems to be better than just saying ‘Go’.

    I also think that even though we are the teacher, we can still actively take part in discussions as an equal. It can sometimes be difficult to get the students to realise that we are acting as a participant rather than a teacher, but by asking lots of Why questions during the communication, rather than just giving our opinion, it can sometimes prompt the students to think about their ideas further and produce more language than they would have otherwise. Often my students see it just as a task that they have to complete as quickly as possible. I tend to take part if either it’s quite a weak group who are not saying much, or a really strong group, who are not shy to answer back and disagree with me.

    Anyway, I think a lot of your ideas and experiences are very similar to mine, and I can really take a lot away from your reflection and think about how I can use it to adapt my teaching.

    I look forward to reading more of your reflections.

    -David

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment, it’s really pleasant and rewarding to read. And also thanks for the ideas. I sometimes have some fear about introducing new tricks because my students might question themselves why I ask them to do it. Like they may not see the point in standing up and going out and coming back. I suppose they might be afraid of looking silly. But this very group consists of young girls and we enjoy working together, so I think I’ll give it a try when we have the next case study lesson. And I’m now convinced to try participating in discussions equally. Why not to do it, let’s see how it goes.
      I’m already looking forward to the next lesson)
      Thanks a lot!
      Kate

  4. Hi Kate

    First of all, thank you for your post; I agree with Hana that the challenges (or mistakes?) you are writing about are so common in the teaching world, and perhaps the advantage of being a new teacher is the openness to talk about them, to ask for advice, etc.
    You wrote that you don’t see any change or progress from the first reflection – well, I don’t think there needs to be a ‘measurable outcome’ -instead, if you notice that the same belief or question is raised more than once, it draws your attention, and you take action (even by asking for advice, for example) As for anticipating challenges – well, with time it will be the way your mind works in lesson planning. I will take less and less time and you will automatically have a little ‘plan B’ for most of the parts in a plan.

    I was smiling reading what Vedrana had to say about Business English course books, and could not agree more. I used Market Leader, In Company, Business 1:1, Business Result, etc. – and one common ‘feature’ is that it is about ‘business in general’ and perhaps 70% of the topics are not even near what the students are doing. Well, ironically, it is a business question (to the language school, to the publishers, to the company boss, etc.) As Vedrana mentioned, perhaps the students did not choose to do Business English (in my experience, they sometimes did not choose to come to the lessons at all – so your situation seems to be better)

    What I tried was asking students if the case study scenario sounds possible for our business culture (Ukraine), or for their company. Giving them some time to think about it was a kind of prep to ‘internalize’ the task. I also sometimes openly said ‘well, I know you are not in accounting department, but in our post-recession time we all benefit from new solutions’ or something like that. Yes, either avoiding the case study, or re-making the task (together with the students?) would be something to do in my context.

    Thank you for making me think! 🙂

    • Zhenya,
      I smiled reading about ‘measurable outcome’ cause this is actually what I always expect to see, like teaching higher levels when it’s more difficult to see outstanding progress than with elementary students I sometimes wonder whether I work effectively or not. But it’s another issue.
      All the comments I’ve got make me wait impatiently till the next lesson. The topic seems to be quite inappropriate))) I love this challenge.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Kate

  5. Hi Kate,

    Thank you for opening up your classroom for us to learn alongside with you.

    What struck me most when reading your post is the feelings you felt during the class. Being compassionate and empathetic with ourselves is really difficult. It’s also vital if we don’t want all those feelings to start to affect us too deeply, lest we dig ourselves a hole we can;t get out of!

    Be well and keep up the reflecting!

    John

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for your comment. I was inspired by other bloggers involved in the reflective practice challenge to take feelings into account and I find it difficult to stop for a second and think how my students might be feeling at that moment but if I do so it helps immediately to tailor and adjust the lesson, a task, my behavior etc. And yeah, you’re absolutely right – if you think too much about it you might get crazy)
      Btw, students always feel when you care and it might also bring some results as they trust you more.

      BR,
      Kate

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