Focusing on learning

Shifting from focus on teaching to focus on learning wasn’t easy at first for me. It is common practice for teachers to focus on the activities and contents instead of the learners themselves, especially when the group is a big one*, and also consider engagement as doing it instead of the quality of the experience. I used to observe only if students were doing it or not, and I would consider an activity a problem only if most students did not respond to it positively, or I would consider the student a problem if he only didn’t respond to the activity positively. Those would be the moment, I would consider changing the type of activity I was using. With time however, I discovered that even if students are doing it, they might not be getting much from it simply because learning is not as simple as I surely I thought it was. Then, I was reminded of affective filters. And doing what students like did certainly put an smile on their faces but again didn’t assure learning for everyone in the room either.

I was sure I wasn’t getting where I wanted with my teens especially and I was looking for help. That is when I met my #PLN. It is not hard to start questioning yourself once you start reflecting on your practice. That was what happened to me.

The more I heard of learner-centered, more anxious I became to understand what that meant. I mean I knew how to make a lesson connect to students’ life, how to create activities that would personalize the use of the language we were working on, how to make them engage in class, use activities that they would do most of the talk and so on. But there was something missing. It was then that I realised that I was still in total control of all of it.

By total control I mean that all decisions were mine and I would just try to tap to their interest and I was considering them as a group instead of the individuals in the room. Once I started looking at the group as people with different interests, needs and reasons for learning English, and also with a very different background when comes to English knowledge and skills.

#1 My first strategy is to look at each learner as an individual and draw a profile of each learner. Ask question informally and having moments where we chat just to get to know each other. I still create the profile of the class, but now considering each individual separately and how they affect each other and how pairing up or grouping them affect the quality of learning.

#2 Having shared responsability for learning. But in order to do this, they need to develop reflective skills and being critical. Then, after the first few weeks I start the reflective process by inviting them to reflect on the activity they are doing, or did and consider affective aspect, usefulness and keep that in mind for the future lessons. With time they will use the notebook more and more to write their ideas, opinions and discuss them with their classmates. The aim is for them to focus on learning themselves and developing a learning community.

#3 Assessment is part of the shifting. So I had to totally review my own views on learning and how to assess it. Here is a post I wrote recently for iTDi Blog.

#4 I keep a diary. I write there not just my lesson plan, but also if there was a need to change something, the reasons why, what the students said or felt about a particular situation, activity or how they reacted to what I or each other said. I try to be as descriptive as possible and I use the diary before, during and after the class.

#5 Creating opportunities*** for learners to keep a record of their own progress.

With these #5 views in mind, I started 2014… and I’m thankful especially to my learners from last year who were patient enough to help me develop myself.

Next post is about vocabulary learning and reflecting on it with my learners.

Check out the summary of the #BRELT chat from last Thursday made by Natália Guerreiro!

*I don’t work with groups larger than 12 students, but I’ve heard teachers saying that the number of students in class makes it impossible for them to personalize learning and give each student the attention they deserve. I am not sure I agree with that. But I am sure though it would be tiring to shift the focus. I wish we all could think of different ways of doing things instead of keeping the same approach that obviously most of the time does not work. As for larger groups, I’ve had this experience once and frankly it was positive for me. I blogged about it here.

** After taking all I learned from my #PLN and from John F. Fanselow, I decided to listen to my students last year and start putting to practice and shift the focus from teaching to learning once for all. It was a big step for me, but one I do not regret taking.

*** I’ve been experimenting with John F. Fanselow’s ideas since the beginning of last year. John is a great teacher trainer and what I like the most about his books and course is that he always invites us to find the answers by ourselves.

jff course 2014

More info: http://www.itdi.pro/itdihome/john.php

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