RP2- the ice-breaker

Mr. John Pfordresher posted a new challenge for anyone who wants to participate in the reflective practice challenge. Feel free to jump in at challenge 2 and leave challenge 1 for another time!

I think this second challenge will give us a lot of opportunities to learn about each other’s teaching environments, beliefs and methods.

I look forward to comments and especially questions that will help me reflect more on why I believe as I do. I also look forward to contributing my own questions to John’s and others’ challenge responses to keep the reflective conversation going.

And so, without further ado, these are the statements and my own responses.


strongly disagree               disagree                      agree                   strongly agree

1) Teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively.

I strongly disagree that teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively. I think there is a lot more to this statement that I need to know:   What is the context? Do the teacher and students share an L1? Why are the learners learning? (to pass a test? what kind of test? to study abroad? to travel? because their moms think it’s a good idea but they’d really rather be playing outside in the snow?) Who are the learners? Doesn’t research show that teaching grammar explicitly to young learners is ineffective (at best)? What does research show about explicit grammar teaching to older (non-linguist) learners? Does it make a difference what level they are at? What does it mean to acquire language effectively? Is there an end point to acquisition? (I don’t think there is.) How is effectiveness measured? 

An answer for myself: My students are young learners and teens. We do not share an L1. The vast majority of them would rather be outside having snowball fights and when I asked them why they are learning English, the ones who didn’t say because of their mothers said it was to travel or to pass the TOEIC test or “because English is global language”. I think not sharing an L1 is the biggest barrier to teaching grammar explicitly (although I’m not sure if they’re taught Korean grammar explicitly at their age either). I usually teach grammar implicitly by pointing out patterns and letting them practice. I am uncertain whether this is effective. I have a game I play with all of my classes (I just adjust the level depending on the class) called Pass the Bomb. It’s a vocabulary game and I require simple sentences. All but the most advanced students forget the grammar patterns when put under time pressure. I think this game mimics the time pressure they might experience in a test or a conversation situation (granted those are vastly different from each other). So have they acquired the patterns? Perhaps only in a controlled environment.

2) Teachers who don’t utilize technology in class are doing a disservice to their students.

(n.b. You  can read John Pfordresher’s post on #edtech here. #jumpingthegun ^^)

Now let’s talk about this. What is meant by technology? Utilized how? How often? For what purpose? To achieve what goals? What are the learning objectives? Can they be achieved in other ways?

I don’t feel strongly about this statement at all, but I guess my answer will put me on the side of mildly disagree. I think there are a lot of benefits and drawbacks to using technology, but I also think that “using technology” shouldn’t be a thing. Learning is the thing. I think the question I need to ask myself (and my students) is what do they need to learn? And then I can try to find a variety of ways to help them achieve those goals. Now, if what they need to learn involves writing a professional letter, I might choose to teach them how to do that through e-mail (which kids their age don’t use anymore). If they need to learn how to communicate with other L2 English speakers, the best way might be through web applications. If they primarily use English in gaming, then I might (but haven’t yet) used online games to help them. Then again, I might not. I might just trust them to figure out how to apply what they learn in our tech-free classroom to their tech-full lives. 

As a side note: I asked my students in two different classes what they want to study and they gave me a list of all the things they think are fun and interesting, including videos, music, and computer games. After some reflection on their list, I realized that what they had actually told me was how they want to study. 

3) Teachers have to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs to be effective.

Following are my thoughts on this statement, but I still don’t really know what I believe. So please don’t take these thoughts as definitive and please help me reflect further here.

Hm. I still don’t know what “effective” means. Does a teacher who fails to understand that a student who is feeling confused might need clarity fail in his job? The answer might seem obvious. But the feelings and needs* that seem to be intended in this statement may also fall outside classroom life.

Nevertheless I am once again going to fall on the disagree side of this statement. I think a teacher needs to be aware that students have feelings and corresponding needs – possibly completely unrelated to the classroom context – in order to adjust their reactions to, for instance, what might look like unwillingness to learn. But I think understanding the correlation between a students’ feelings and needs might involve a lot of guesswork that the student might be unable or unwilling to verify. I think as a teacher I would like to know how my students are doing and whether or not their needs are being met. I don’t know whether my knowing that has anything to do with my students’ learning.

*When I think of needs in this context, two things come to mind: Maslow’s pyramid (although most of my students would add wifi to the bottom tier) and NVC needs: “Needs are more than the things we can’t live without.  They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and/or more meaningful experience as a human.  Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us.  When they are unmet, we experience feelings… when they are met, we experience feelings.”

 That’s it. I welcome comments or posts of your own on the topic. Join the challenge! #onamission to reflect online!

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  • Hana Tichá  On February 9, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    You’ve certainly asked yourself (and the reader) a lot of interesting questions, Anne. I believe that questions are more important that the answers, and that a question is an answer in disguise. So by asking those questions you actually imply what you think, even if you don’t elaborate on all of them. As far as feelings are concerned, I would only add that teachers should try hard to help their Ss feel comfortable at school because that’s what’s in their power. Other words that spring to mind are compassion, respect and tolerance, which I strongly associate with feelings in general. All in all, a great post!

    • livinglearning  On February 9, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      You’re right! These are the questions that come up for me when I thought about the statements. And I can see how the questions reflect my beliefs as much as (or more than) my answers do.
      I agree that compassion, respect and tolerance have an important place in classroom atmosphere. There’s so little that we can control even within our own classrooms, but to try and cultivate at least that much between the students if possible, could go a long way.
      Thank you for reading and for your comments. 🙂

  • haeundaelife  On February 9, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Hi Anne,

    Seconding Hana’s comment, questions are more important than the question, and you’ve posed some spectacular ones for yourself, and everyone, to ponder.

    I myself am still forming the responses to my own statements (even tho the edtech post does follow on the same line of thinking as the second statement 😉

    I think your tentativeness to responding to the third statement is understandable, and I am extremely glad to see you have put that on show and openly asked for help in coming to grips with it. That’s exactly what RP is all about. This post is a model for anyone wondering how to get started with RP. So thank you for leading the way and showing us how to get it done!

    I myself don’t feel strongly about #1, but appreciate the questions you have posed. They certainly give me some direction when thinking about all this. I also want to thank you for sharing your bomb game, I think its a neat, inventive way to add a bit of positive pressure.

    As mentioned, I have already inadvertently given my response to the second statement. I agree that using tech shouldn’t be a “thing”. But it is a critical component to our lives, and will continue to be. That said, I would fall on the agree side of the statement.

    You mentioned struggling with third statement, but I believe your response is proof that you do indeed know what you think about it. I would also hazard a guess that you fall on the side of agree, judging from what you said.

    If teachers see a student not paying attention in class, bored or apathetic, many might dismiss that student as lazy or the classic “bad” student. Dismissing a student in such a way, missing the correlation between those feelings and the needs of the student (which you very rightly point out could very well be associated with their life outside of class) would decrease the effectiveness of said educator.

    Well thems are my opinions. Thanks again for getting us started so well!


    • livinglearning  On February 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      Hi John,
      I like how you’ve given some of your thoughts on the statements you set out here in the comments. I’m surprised to hear you say you don’t feel strongly about the first statement. I guess it’s all about balance, but I wonder how much weight other teachers give grammar and what goes on the other side of the balance.
      I liked your response regarding #edtech and I wondered if you were going to write three posts to answer the challenge. You still can, you know. 😉
      Thank you for your comments on the third part. You said that my response is proof that I know what I’m talking about, but the truth is it sort of fades in and out of my understanding – sometimes I can grasp it and the next minute it’s gone. And I wonder whether what I say here as a “should” reflects what I really do in class. Just two days ago I told a kid “don’t mess with me today” when he was goofing off. He cleaned up his act right away, but I felt guilty. I had a cold and a bad class just before his and I was taking that out on him. :-/

      Anyway thanks for reading and for the challenge and for your comment that makes me think even more.


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