Tag Archives: reflection

Korea Reflective Practice Special Interest Group (Korea RPSIG) Day of Reflection, August 22 2015.

Inspired by Dr. Thomas S.C. Farrell, the Korea reflective practice SIG held its first Day of Reflection on Saturday, August 22. Presenters and participants from all over Korea came to Sookmyoung Women’s University in Seoul for the event.
This post was originally going to be an article about the event, but now it’s not so here it is.

Making some omelets with Shannon Tanghe

Making some omelets with Shannon Tanghe

To kick off the event, Shannon Tanghe, a teacher educator of Danguk University in Incheon, gave a workshop titled, “Reflective Teacher Collaboration”. Dan Lortie (75) called teaching an egg-crate profession – teachers tend to be separate from each other and work alone in their classrooms –  and Shannon suggested we start making omelets through collaboration with other teachers. Shannon took us on her own journey exploring collaboration and recommended a lot of tools teachers can use to collaborate together, including collaborative journaling, collaborative lesson plan reviewing, peer observation. She challenged us to identify who we would like to collaborate with and make a plan. Shannon ended by reminding us that reflection does not stop here: having events like a Day of Reflection are great, but they are not enough if we don’t continue to reflect.

"Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills."

“Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills.”

The second presenter was Kim Mikyoung, a high school teacher and teacher trainer from Daegu. Mikyoung graciously shared a program she and her colleagues ran with a group of high school students that centered on teaching students to reflect on their learning. Mikyoung showed videos of student reflections and shared the materials she used in her program. Mikyoung’s presentation reminded us all that students need to reflect to learn, and so do we. She said, “Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills.” According to Mikyoung, it takes reflective teachers to instill those skills in their students.

Charting our professional paths with Jocelyn Wright.

Charting our professional paths with Jocelyn Wright.

Jocelyn Wright came all the way from Mokpo to honor us with a highly interactive third workshop on the day. She began by asking us to use a prompt to tell the story of our own journey to becoming a teacher. This is how she introduced the concept of “revelatory incidents.” By using participants’ own experiences, Jocelyn led us to reflect on the specific incidents in our teaching careers that changed us as teachers. One of the things I realized learning from other teachers in my small group during this presentation is that “revelatory incidents” might feel uncomfortable, but it is just such an experience that helps a teacher to grow. Jocelyn also emphasized that teachers change and evolve all the time and our reflective path does not stop with one Day of Reflection but must continue in the future.

Chris Miller guides a reflection on critical incidents.

Chris Miller guides a reflection on critical incidents.

The fourth workshop of the day was titled “Using Critical Incidents to Further Professional Development.” Christopher Miller, a teacher at Daeil Foreign Language High School, shared a framework for reflecting on critical incidents. The framework included four questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What might it mean? and What are the implications for practice? Chris began by giving examples from his own experience and encouraged us to do the same: to share our critical incidents in groups and hear each other’s perspectives. Chris also provided materials to use on our own for teachers’ and students’ reflections on critical incidents.

Reflecting on the reflections on reflection. Meta-meta.

Reflecting on the reflections on reflection. Meta-meta.

The day ended with a final reflection session in small groups facilitated by Michael Griffin. Michael provided participants with some questions to help them reflect on the four previous sessions and asked groups to discuss the most interesting questions. The group I was in was most interested in teaching learners to reflect and spent our time discussing ways that learners can be motivated to care about their learning. This led into a final question and answer period in which presenters answered participants’ questions regarding their workshops. A common thread throughout all the workshops was that reflection does not stop here — it is a continuous process to develop as teachers. Michael ended the evening by reminding us of this again.

This day of reflection was valuable for me as a teacher, and I hope it was also valuable for other participants. I am eternally grateful to the presenters for donating their time and expertise and to the participants for coming to learn together. I would also like to thank Sookmyoung University Injaegwan for the space for this event. I hope we can have other events like it in the future.

The reflective practice special interest group has regular meetings in Seoul, Daegu, and Gwangju. For more information, search the Korea Reflective Practice Special Interest Group on Facebook.

Bonus photo:

Post-workshop awesomeness

Post-workshop awesomeness

A quick reflection on activities

Daegu’s reflective practice SIG meeting yesterday turned out really interesting. One person brought a couple of activities she wanted to try with her students and we played them together and considered their uses, benefits, drawbacks, and applications and adaptations.

I guess in a sense it was sort of a pre-flection (c Matthew Noble). The focus was on an activity that has not yet been tried in class to see how it might turn out. Doing this really helps to be more flexible in the classroom because when something isn’t working for a group of students then we have ways to change or adapt it on the spot, already thought out.

Anyway, as a follow-up for myself, I took both of the games and tried them in some of my classes today.

The first game was a memory game. The students put the vocabulary cards (two matching sets) face down on the desk and the first student picked up a card. He made a sentence with the word on the card and then picked up a second to try and find its match. If they matched, he kept both cards for two points. If they didn’t, he put them back and the next person got a turn. When we played in the meeting, we realized that the person who went last had the advantage when a large group plays, so I made teams of three. In the meeting the game took about 10 minutes, but my class didn’t finish it before the class time was over.

The students policed each other about their sentences, but I monitored the weaker groups. The words were quite hard for them and at the end only one student had a pair. I wonder if I should focus more on vocabulary in that class. Another thing I noticed is that the students focused more on finding pairs than on using the words. They wanted the matches to win and the language suffered from it. That could be a potential drawback to this game with some learners. On the other hand, they said they enjoyed the game and wouldn’t mind playing again.

The game was pretty low prep – I made it out of the vocabulary from their reading book and printed the cards, copied a few sheets, and cut them out. It took about 15 minutes to prepare.

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/79157069@N03/14080255255

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/79157069@N03/14080255255

The second game was a version of tic-tac-toe. I tried a few variations of this. In a class of young learners, I created the tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses to some of you) squares on the white board and filled them with vocabulary. Then I wrote the target language next to it  and divided the class into two teams. They got really into it – every student participated and were eager to help each other. Then I gave them paper to make their own game and play against their partner while I walked around keeping an eye on things. This only worked for the more highly motivated students, but eventually everyone had played twice.

With a higher level class, I gave them a theme to play with (an idea that came out of our experimentation at the RP meeting) and used vocabulary from their reading text. We played on the board first and the combination of vocabulary and theme proved too difficult. I gave them pre-made games to play in small groups and didn’t force a theme, but it was still too difficult for some of them. They didn’t have positive feedback about the game and left the class looking frustrated. Perhaps part of the problem was the time of day (just before dinner for them), or their age (sixth graders), or that it’s Monday, or that the words were still too unfamiliar for them to use naturally. I need to find a way to support them more to play this with words from their book.

Anyway, that’s my follow-up reflection from these activities. I appreciate any feedback you might have, gentle readers.

RP 5: The Challenge to Generalize

Following is my attempt at the next Reflective Practice Blog Challenge: generalization. 

This challenge was set by Zhenya Polosatova over at John Pfordresher’s blog.

Here are the directions for the challenge: 

Directions for RP Challenge 5: look back at the description and analysis you provided and formulate generalizations about learning, teaching, communication, (personal and professional) awareness, etc. Are you surprised to see the generalizations you wrote? Have you had them for a long time or are they the result of that particular experience you had?

To see how others have approached the challenge, check out Hana’s post on How I see it now and Kate’s post on iamlearningteaching.

 

One thing that I have come to love about reflective practice is exploring my beliefs. When I first started I remember clearly claiming that I didn’t have any beliefs. To me beliefs were things that I couldn’t change my mind about. Sure I had strong feelings on some things, but I didn’t want to be stuck to those in my own mind or anyone else’s. As I’ve been practicing, reflecting and blogging, I’ve started to uncover the beliefs I didn’t think I had, much to my own astonishment. Now I sort of enjoy the process – peering into my practice and saying “Oh, look. This must be a belief!” and then taking a closer look at it to see if stands up to scrutiny. I don’t feel so afraid of being attached to beliefs anymore.

In the interest of uncovering my beliefs, I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory online. I’ll tell you more about that in another post perhaps. I mention it because my highest score is for Nurturing (this makes sense to me since I think L2 communication requires vulnerability). And this is exactly what I did not do with Josh, which makes me wonder whether what I believe and claim to do is how my students perceive me.

And so with all these things I mind, I begin to generalize from my analysis of my description of the incident in my class.

 

I wrote: He may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.
It seems I believe: It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.

I wrote: It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough.
It seems I believe: Giving students more guidance when approaching new tasks and materials and understanding that students are not always comfortable doing things they’re not sure they can get right is good practice.

I wrote: It is possible that my instructions were unclear.
It seems I believe: Giving clear instructions and checking understanding of those will make an activity more smooth.

I wrote: It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.
It seems I believe: Understanding students’ culture can help avoid misinterpretation of body language.

I wrote (in a comment): The interactive way I teach didn’t register to them as “study” and they thought they’d just been playing around, which is why they weren’t taking it seriously.
It seems I believe: Making objectives of each activity clear to the students can prevent misunderstanding.

 

Most of these statements seem pretty obvious to me. The one that surprises me most is the first one: “It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.” I’m not sure whether I believe or practice this. Not all learners are alike and some are more independent while others if I take my eyes off them for five seconds they might burn the building down.

One thing I didn’t touch on is the role of empathy and whether or how I’m meeting the students’ needs (and my own). This is important to me so I’m surprised by its absence.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration. I look forward to your comments!

RPC 4 – Analysis

It has been a few weeks since my last post in the Reflective Practice Blog Challenge. In the meantime, a lot of things have been going on and a lot has been on my mind to blog, but hasn’t quite it made it onto my blog!

This new challenge comes from Josette LeBlanc as a guest post on Observing the Class. The challenge is to analyse the description from the previous post. 

One thing I am curious about is how the amount of time and space between the original event and the description of it and between the description blog post and the analysis of it affects the process (and my memory). I’m tempted to use a new moment, actually, to sort of start over. But I’m going to give this a chance.

So the challenge is to analyse: “Considering all the facets that you discovered in your description, come up with possible reasons for the actions and reactions. Generate as many possible explanations as you can. Look at the moment from different perspectives. Consider the material, teacher, students, student dynamics, or student-teacher relationship. Recall past teaching, learning, cultural, or life experiences. Refer to the educational, cognitive, and linguistic theories you know. All this will inform your analysis.” 

A second part of the challenge asks us to analyse the experience through the lens of  feelings and needs of all the participants. 

And suddenly describing looks so much easier.

The original description: 

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Factors I will consider: 

Student’s background:

I’ve only known Josh for around 6 months. During that time his motivation levels seem to vary. Another thing that happened during that time is his little sister was diagnosed with a learning disorder. It is quite possible that the attention to education he once got from his parents has been transferred to his sister.

Josh is a 13 year old boy. He’s at a difficult age going through puberty and just entering middle school where his workload and time in classes (and extra study) has increased dramatically. That’s a lot to manage for someone who just wants to play soccer and definitely doesn’t want to draw pictures. It’s possible as well that anything seen as “babyish” (including legible handwriting) might be anathema to him.

It’s also quite possible that Josh doesn’t learn as well this way (visually?).

Student-teacher(s) relationship:

The teachers discuss Josh as a problem-child quite a bit. My boss, who teaches one of his classes, often asks about him. It could be that because he gets so much attention in his absence, we might hold different expectations of him in the classroom – expect him to cause problems and bear down on him more. Where 80% of the students don’t pay attention, Josh is certain to be singled out. On the other hand, greater efforts are made to motivate and encourage him as well. In any case, he may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.

Student-student relationships:

Who’s sitting next to Josh affects his focus in class. I’ve been experimenting with seating arrangements and the student next to Josh – normally a motivated learner – inspired a lot of chaos in class time. It could be that Josh has trouble distinguishing between time to focus and time to play, especially when there are playmates nearby. Since I’ve changed the seats, both of them have done a little better but Josh is still last to finish anything.

Materials: 

The book this class is using, Thoughts and Notions, is challenging for them. It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough. It is also possible that they are bored, having dealt with the material in the book before with a previous teacher. We use the same book in different ways (they translate the readings for her and answer the exercises in the book, but they analyse the text for me and work with vocabulary in other contexts).

Instructions: 

It is possible that my instructions were unclear. I didn’t tell the students beforehand to write the assignments in their notebooks if they hadn’t done their homework. It’s also not an activity I’d done often before. It’s possible that Josh wasn’t writing because he didn’t know he was supposed to. It’s also possible that because I was addressing him and not anyone else in the class, he felt he was being singled out. Since I’ve begun doing this sort of exercise regularly, Josh is more willing to write. Another possibility is that the purpose of the activity was not clear to Josh and he couldn’t see any reason why he should do it (and “because I said so” doesn’t cut it for him).

Culture:

It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.

Feelings and needs (me):

I was feeling frustrated and a little sad.

I needed to be heard.

Feelings and needs (student):

I imagine Josh might have been feeling frustrated as well. He may have needed to be heard.

Or he may have felt bored. He may have needed mental stimulation.

He may have felt tired. He may have needed rest and to be alone.

 

I’m sure there’s a whole lot more that can be said and I feel like I’ve barely opened the lid of the analysis. But now I need your help, fellow reflectors. What are some questions that might lead me to find what I’m missing?

RPC 3: Description

RPC 3: Description

Instructions From John’s Original Post:

“Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

In addition, I would like us to pay particular attention to the feelings of all those involved. How did we feel? How do we think the student(s) felt. For now, let’s not analyze why we think they felt one way or another (that’s for our next challenge).”

 As you might have seen from my comment on John’s original post, I have no intention of including the feelings of any participant other than myself. I am also going to try to state those feelings first and stick to pure description after that.

I invite readers to ask me questions to help clarify the description and to point out where my description might be turning into judgment or analysis (through use of loaded language or whatever), but I’m not looking for analysis, advice or suggestions at this time.

Let’s go!

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Here ends my description. I hope you can help me with your questions and comments.

 

Edit: I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments! 

Here are some more descriptions to read and add your insights to: 

RP3 – The Description Phase on How I see it now by @HanaTicha

RP Challenge 3: ELC Description by David Harbinson (@DavidHarbinson)

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!

Reflective Practice Mission Statement

I have no idea what this is. However, I have been inspired by Mr. John Pfordresher and Ms. Ann Loseva to enter this conversation and so I will try. 

Wikipedia’s help:

These are the components of a mission statement:

  1. Key market – who is your target client/customer? (generalize if needed)
  2. Contribution – what product or service do you provide to that client?
  3. Distinction – what makes your product or service unique, so that the client would choose you?

These are what it should do:

  • Define what the company is
  • Be limited to exclude some ventures
  • Be broad enough to allow for creative growth
  • Distinguish the company from all others
  • Serve as framework to evaluate current activities
  • Be stated clearly so that it is understood by all

Step by step, then:

1. Who is my key market? For whom do I reflect? Well, I guess my target customer is me. My students (and friends?) might experience occasional benefits, but those are side effects.

2. What product or service do I provide? Why do I reflect? I reflect in order to increase my awareness of what is happening in my class (or in my life, as John reminded me). Life is full of emotion but I want to view each situation objectively and see what is really there. However, I don’t want to (and probably can’t) divorce myself of emotion so I want to see my heart’s realities alongside the objective realities. I want to invite others to join me in this process so that I maintain a balance.

3. What makes my product unique? I do. And so does every contribution and question and strategy offered by anyone who is interested. The combination of our efforts will produce a unique result every time. That is worth remembering – since the reflective spiral is never complete and there are always more angles (or lenses) and more questions to be asked.

Have I fulfilled the criteria? You get to decide.

Collecting and Using Learner Feedback, a workshop

Those of you who know me know that it’s unusual for me to let myself be talked into speaking in public. I get stage fright, and such a terrible buzzing in my brain that I can’t even hear what I’m saying and can’t remember it after. But I do it, and for two reasons: because of my friends’ unshakeable confidence in me and because of my own belief in what I have to share. 

Last week I gave a workshop about feedback for a lovely group of inservice public school teachers at the request of my friend and my very first trainer, #KELTchatter Matthew Walker (@esltasks – he blogs here). I’d like to share some of the material here.

2013-12-09 18.24.29

The Feedback Box my classes use

Collecting Feedback

We began by exploring some beliefs about feedback through an agree/disagree activity. I really enjoy this activity because it never fails to show how different we all are and open our minds to other ways of thinking. I was most surprised by the variety of responses to “Feedback should be given in Korean.”

In the next part, we talked about why teachers might want (and not want) to collect feedback. I have to admit, I’m coming from a perspective of “collecting feedback is always better than not,” so I was really pleased to hear opinions on both sides of the question from the teachers in the room. I was really interested in the discussion on feedback for evaluation or personal use. I also learned something about how and when feedback is normally collected in Korean schools.

Next we talked about how to collect feedback: deciding what we want to know and making questions that will help us draw that information from our students.

How I collect feedback:

Feedback is a process of trial and error, in my experience. The first time I asked my class for feedback, I left it totally open. I didn’t give any guiding questions. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. I was sort of hoping their feedback would answer that for me. Two things happened: students wrote about other classes or things that were beyond my control, and students wrote useful things that I would never have thought to ask.

2013-12-09 18.46.08

Examples of student feedback (take II)

After that, I structured feedback more, but still experimented. I tried having them give collective feedback on the board. That was a disaster because their comments were shallow, non-specific, and exclusively positive.

I tried colored strips of paper with a lot more success, with the disadvantage that it limited what students were allowed to comment on.

2013-12-09 16.11.17

I like – , I dislike – , Please change – feedback examples (take III)

I tried asking five specific questions about the class – this worked well, but again had the disadvantage of being limiting and also took way too much time.

I tried my variation on exit slips: exit tests where students have to show what they’ve learned before they can leave the classroom. This works well with younger and lower level classes where they have to answer a question or produce a correct sentence in order to leave.

Yesterday I had quite a bit of success with three questions: 1) What did you learn? 2) What parts of the class did you like/ dislike? and 3) I want to tell Anne _____.

2013-12-18 13.27.14

I learned _ , I like/dislike _ , I want to tell Anne _ (Feedback, take IV)

I think one of the reasons feedback collection has been more and more successful each time is because the students are getting practice giving feedback and building trust that 1) it will not be ignored and 2) it will not cause conflict.

Next time I am going to try some of the feedback forms suggested by the teachers in the workshop.

Participants’ feedback ideas:

The teachers displayed three different modes of collecting feedback. One group came up with a feedback tree. I love that idea and would like to adapt it to make a new attempt at group feedback.

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Open mind, open feedback!

The other groups designed Likert scales to collect the information they wanted (information related to the four skills). Another variation that I loved was a space for the student’s feeling. I think that feeling can be very relevant to the perception of the class and the feedback they give.

I really regret that I didn’t take pictures of the teachers’ work, but Matthew came to the rescue again:

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Gettin’ specific, with little memory icons, but space for free comments as well.

 

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Great way to collect feedback from large classes without getting bogged down.

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Part 2: finding out what the students want.

After the groups presented their feedback ideas, we ran out of time. I skirted over reflection and response, even though to me they are as important (or more important) than collecting the feedback.

I know the word count on this post is already getting up there, but this time I don’t want to miss out on reflection and response.

Reflecting on feedback:

Once I’ve collected feedback, I have to decide what to do with it. I look first for common threads. I also look for surprising comments. While it’s possible to reflect on both the positive and the critical aspects of the feedback to great benefit, I’m pretty typical in focusing primarily on what students would like to change.

With common threads (for instance, the nearly unanimous dislike of summary writing in a class of 6th graders), I sit down with a pen and my notebook and write out the description of the class, the students, how I have taught the material, the students’ reactions at the time (as I perceived them), the resultant summaries, and anything else I can think of.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.

 

Then I start thinking of all the possible reasons why they might hate writing summaries. Perhaps it takes a lot of time? Perhaps they still aren’t confident they are doing it correctly? Perhaps it is still difficult for them to understand the material well enough to summarize it? Perhaps they don’t have enough vocabulary to say the same things in different ways? And on and on. These are questions I can clarify when I speak with the students about their feedback.

Finally I need to decide whether I am going to make a change. In this case, I decided not to. Summary writing is an important skill that will improve with practice. So I decided to explain to the students why I want them to continue practicing and promise them more support in the future to try and make it easier.

Responding to feedback:

As I mentioned before, I think it is very important for students to know that their feedback will not be ignored. I think this is true for learners of all ages. And so I take the time to respond. After collecting feedback, I go through it. I create a chart for it and sometimes color-code it based on the questions answered. 

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Then I give the chart to the students. I go over it with them in class. I ask them to identify common threads. I ask them whether they agree or disagree or don’t care about some of the less common feedback. I explain what I can change. We negotiate. Where there are things that cannot be changed or that I am unwilling to change, I explain the reasons behind those decisions. And then I ask what they think about that.

This all takes time, but it’s worth it and usually results in better or more specific feedback the next time.

My thoughts on the workshop:

1) I didn’t have time to get specific feedback from the participants. I wanted to know whether the workshop would change the way they collected feedback in their classes, whether the ideas they got from me and each other would help them collect the kind of feedback that would be useful and manageable, and how they think I can improve this workshop for future groups.

2) I wish I had learned the teachers’ names. I wanted them to know I am really interested in them and their ideas.

3) I wish I had built in more time to share as a group. I learned a lot from these teachers, but I feel I talked too much.

I want to thank the teachers who were willing to spend their morning with me. I learned a lot from them.

You guys are awesome.

You guys are awesome.

talking sticks and twenty questions

When I arrived at work this afternoon, it was with highlights from #KOTESOL2013 still swirling in my head. I made my coworkers dizzy talking about motivation, ELF, reflection and intercultural communication until I ran out of breath.

However, when I walked into my first class, I found an eager group of 12 young learners, ready for anything. We started with a warm-up of 20 questions and Esther and Elly immediately put their hands up to start the questioning. And a thought occurred to me: one of the points my boss made when she was giving me feedback from observing that class is that those two girls do the majority of the talking in that class.

Professor Tom Farrell gives a plenary address at #KOTESOL2013

Professor Tom Farrell gives a plenary address at #KOTESOL2013

Then I remembered that Tom Farrell had shared similar observation statistics in his plenary address. He mentioned that the teacher in his case had solved the problem with talking sticks. I didn’t have anything like that prepared, but I decided it was worth a try. I told all the students that they each could only ask two questions.

This led to quite a bit of jostling as students negotiated who would ask which questions. Esther and Elly were mostly unsuccessful in trying to push other students to ask questions they wanted. During the game there was a lot of conversation and teamwork about what information they had already and what questions would be the best to ask. And everyone participated.

Overall it was a really interesting and positive result for that activity with that class and solved a problem I had worried about without Elly and Esther feeling like they were doing anything wrong. I’m curious to see how it works in the future.

 

UPDATE (11/11): I’ve used the 20 questions game with other classes and some insist on playing every day. One class has made up their own variations to the game, mostly changes for the better, and play it in their free time – in English! Here are the changes they’ve made:

  • 2 questions per students wasn’t enough and led to silence. They changed this to 4.
  • Too many options also led to silence, so they began to choose topics.
  • Guessing the answer right away led to random guessing, so they added a new rule: you can guess the answer, but if you’re wrong you’re out. That way students had to guess at clues that would lead to the answer. I suspected this would lead to uneven participation again, but so far it’s worked.
  • The winner gets to be “teacher” for the next game. They keep careful track of this, too!

What gets me is how cool it is that the kids have changed the game to suit them and to make sure it’s fast-paced, interesting, and can still involve everyone. They keep track of how many questions they have left and argue over the dynamics of saving all your questions till the end. In the end, all I do is facilitate and sometimes play.

…and then I gave them all three hours worth of homework

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my own teaching. Regular readers (all three of you) will remember that I recently moved to a private academy. I’ve spent the last 5 weeks settling in and getting used to the challenges of a new position.

The settling in period is far from over and life has been confusing and challenging as well as interesting and rewarding. I will put aside time in another post to try and unravel all the confusing threads. Today I want to talk about a lesson that I’m dissatisfied with.

My boss and I are working together to design a writing curriculum focusing on a combination of genre writing and process writing. We created a syllabus for a two month course, with the aim to teach our middle school students to write within four different genres: informal letters, formal letters, newspaper articles and reviews. Today was the first day of that and it didn’t go so well.

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

First of all, today was the first day back after a two week break for the middle school students, who just finished their midterm exams. Thus a 50 minute lesson turned into a 40 minute one while they chatted and got caught up with each other and reestablished the class dynamic. All three classes spent at least 10 minutes getting caught up and settled in.

Then we spent a few minutes free-writing. In the first two classes, I selected the topic and set a time limit. In the third class, I told them my selected topic was optional if they didn’t think of anything they wanted to write about on their own. This seemed to work well. After the time was up, I told them to read their writing again and use their dictionaries to fill in words they didn’t know. A few students also asked about structures they were uncertain of. I got to glance at their notebooks, but since they needed them for their next tasks, I couldn’t take them up. I realised that the students will need notebooks dedicated to writing class.

The next thing we did was look at example letters. I gave the students three example letters to read and told them that I wanted them to compare the letters and figure out the format of an informal letter. We put the results on the board and they wrote down the vocabulary they didn’t know. Then they drew diagrams to show where each part of the letter goes.

And that’s as far as I got, in every class. I had a collaborative vocabulary activity planned that there wasn’t time for. We were meant to complete five units’ worth of “useful expressions” and so I gave them those five units as homework. The first class didn’t buy it. I had failed to explain the purpose of the homework and the target we were reaching towards. The second class bought it because we looked through the topics of each unit and they immediately saw for themselves why it’s so useful. The third class grumbled, but they bought it, too. I had to sell them the usefulness of the vocabulary in those five units, though.

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Ellen de Preter, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Ellen de Preter, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

In every class, I was left with the impression that it could definitely have gone better. I think what went wrong was my expectations of what could be done in a single class. I forgot that the students would need some time to get used to being in the class again. I forgot that I’d have to sell this new idea of learning genre writing to them. I forgot that many of them had never studied writing before. I forgot that five units of vocabulary can’t possibly be learned in a day. The first class greeted me with blank stares and silence. They’re the lowest level and I was the first teacher who saw them today. I had to threaten motivate them with a test to get them to participate at all.

On Friday, I will teach this lesson again. I still have no idea how to help the students manage the amount of vocabulary they need. I have to find a way to shift the focus away from the vocabulary and onto the writing process, using the vocabulary as a resource instead.

Questions, suggestions, ideas and advice are all quite welcome.

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