Julietta Schoenmann, a language teacher and teacher trainer with over twenty years’ experience, considers ways in which teachers can reflect on how they teach.
As professionals who care about our students and the quality of the lessons we prepare and deliver, we do from time to time want to explore certain aspects of our practice in more depth. One way of doing this is by carrying out an action research project. ‘Project’ makes it sound rather grand and formal but it doesn’t have to be as inaccessible as it sounds. Classroom-based research is simply a method for finding out more about teaching and learning which then, in theory, makes you a better teacher and also helps your students become better learners. So how do you go about doing it?
On your own
There are loads of things you can do by yourself which reveal plenty about you as a teacher – your attitude to your work and your students, your role in the classroom, your management techniques, your lesson planning abilities, etc. The first thing you need to do is think about which aspect of your lessons you want to research. Looking through any pages of the New English File Teacher’s Book can get you thinking about areas that deserve attention:
- How effectively do you present new grammar structures?
- How helpful are your techniques for explaining new vocabulary?
- Do you provide adequate feedback on students’ performance?
- Do you set up and conclude activities in a logical and engaging way?
It’s helpful to write down some questions to get you started so that you have a focus to work with. Let me give you an example from my own teaching.
A little while ago I wanted to find out how effective my instructions were with pre-intermediate group and decided to record my lesson. The digital recording device I used was nice and discreet so it wasn’t distracting for students in class. I was able to stop and start it whenever I wanted (rather than waste time on footage that wasn’t that helpful to me, such as groups doing a writing task). I set aside time a few days later to listen to what I’d captured.
Well, what a wealth of material there was to work with! Not only did I gain insights into my sometimes tortuous instruction techniques (“What I’d like you to do is…”) but I also discovered a lot more about how well (or not!) I listened to students’ responses to questions, how good the flow was between stages of the lesson and how many fillers (some annoying, others possibly less so) that I peppered my discourse with. I realised that recording myself was the only way I could objectively analyse what I did in the classroom and more importantly, what my students heard and acted on in the lesson.
With your colleagues
We all have our favourite ways of presenting certain structures but how often do we really consider the impact that different approaches might have on students? Here’s one way of exploring this fascinating area further.
You need to work with a colleague who’s teaching the same level as you. Look through your course book and identify a structure that students often find a challenge, e.g. New English File Intermediate 4A (first conditional). Now you and your colleague have a choice. Either you can both present the structure in exactly the same way and compare observations on how students responded afterwards (bearing in mind the different profiles of your classes). Or one of you can present it as it is in the book and the other can do it an alternative way; then again compare the responses. The purpose is not to find the ‘best’ method but to analyse student responses to various approaches which might tell you both something about what works best with certain groups of students.
So, if you choose to do any of the following: observe a colleague, keep a teaching diary, ask your students to evaluate your lessons or carry out interviews with/distribute questionnaires to colleagues, you can pat yourself on the back and award yourself an Active Classroom Researcher medal!
But, seriously, it’s through these sorts of research activities that you can consider in more detail your own strengths and limitations as a practitioner. The more you know about what you do in the classroom the greater the choices you’ll have to develop as a professional.
Do you take time to reflect on your teaching practices? What techniques do you use?