Teachers are doing it for themselves. Okay, the lyrics actually said sisters and not teachers, but can that be applied to teaching? Oh his 34-and-a-half-th birthday, writer John Acton gives out further tips.
Don’t flood the market.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor was a complete understanding of the English language or uses of said philological skills. There are professors and scholars always trying to further this language of ours. Don’t worry about everything. Narrow it down to just a little by little approach. If you blanket a subject, you’ll swamp it into a boggy, murky, twisted mess and scare the students away! Don’t do too much in a short space of time. We must know what to include and what to eject. Your favourite subjects of contents, e.g. football and cycling may not be apt for the syllabus. The semester or year needs clear division into units. Each unit must have a focus and target language. The students’ experiences, background and class numbers need to be accounted into the material. I have often split a* unit* into multiple classes to get a sounder understanding of more difficult subjects. Simply prioritising and setting purposes helps.
Questions and answers.
I find that just a simple question with a simple answer isn’t enough to keep a conversation flowing. Closed questions, the kind where, yes, no and maybe arise can kill a conversation. More open questions can lead a conversation to more questions and details. I try to encourage my students to work in pairs and have one student as the question master and the other as questioned. This is a great technique for reviewing a subject and also makes the students think harder about the level of detail in their answer. If the task is limited to one minute then the student can respond strongly to prevent further questions. If the questioned student is too simplistic with their answers the question master can launch many questions. This makes for a good spectator competition, but use it sparingly – as too many rounds will make you question using this challenge again.
Are you the challenger?
Don’t agree with everything. You can be much more than someone who nods their head and says, “Yes” or “Okay.” We can be a commentator like of Match of the Day; we can be a challenger like in a public debate; we can be more moderate like a news presenter; or we orchestrate an argument to develop deeper conversation. Through these characters we can guide students, change behaviours, and promote thinking critically. It goes without saying about avoiding religious and political debate but subjects such as wildlife conservation and attitudes to animal care make for interesting discussion. Perhaps give students roles, like a hunter, a conservation worker, a wildlife guard, the family of the hunter, the medicine maker, the police and anyone else connected directly to illegal rhino horn poaching. You’ll maybe see and hear defences, objectiveness and bias. Flip the roles between students and see if they can understand one another’s arguments. Challenge each student with simple questions. Who? When? What? Why? How? Which? Where?
“Save the world”, “save trees”, “recycle”, are a few cried heard all over the world. If you pass the photocopying room at my school, close to exam time, you’ll hear a different kind of whimper. As the photocopiers go all lifeless and silent or they spew out worthless misprints the copy staff go postal. Handouts in classes are essential for homework. For a class task, it is worth asking two to six students to share one sheet of A4 or A3 paper. A shared task and prompt sheet is more likely to drive the behaviours needed for good team etiquette. And you’ve just saved the Amazon rainforest!
Evaluate and evolve.
Teachers have basic principles but over the years our methods have become more and more chameleonic. The successful teacher adapts to new technologies and new methods. They seek new ideas and embrace them. They also refine the tried and tested methods to a finite degree of near perfection. There’s no resting on their laurels (or Sweet Bay leaves). If something that did work, no longer works, changes must be made. A variety of incidents may change your teaching methods. A class size change from 16 to 60 certainly will make you uneasy. The old rules may be redundant. There may be a drive for more advanced media orientated or business connected vocabularies. You must know what to do, usually by understanding your previous workings, exams, evaluations and student knowledge. You may need to prepare extra base work or go off subject to bring about further knowledge teaching. You may need a library, online resource, ask somebody for help or forum to seek new ideas or guidance. From here we can construct content with objectives, structure, adjust and format a new range of materials. Not everything comes from experience. Keeping it as simple as possible will make it much more management.
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*Is it an unit or a unit? See this debate.