It’s that time of year in a teacher’s life when we are mostly running on empty having done everything we can to support our students through examinations, with all the associated work this involves and our minds turn toward the summer holidays and a chance to down tools and recharge our batteries and catch up with family and friends.
It’s also a time when things are not so urgent and chaotic and thus provides an awesome and welcome space to reflect on the successes and lessons to be learned from the year and plan for another challenging year ahead. Teaching is a tough job regardless of what others may say and yet it remains one of the best jobs in the world for those who are willing to embrace the opportunity with both hands.
During this year, through collaboration with my friend and colleague Mr Glenn Wall, I have developed the use of Target Language 90% Plus (TL90Plus) in all my lessons. This has involved aiming to use the target language 90% of the time in all lessons. There is lots of guidance and support freely available about this strategy and although I found using this approach difficult and frustrating to begin with there have been a number of very positive outcomes including improved standards in oracy, engagement and ethos.
In turn, this has led to researching many different approaches and methodologies to learning languages including Comprehensible Input, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), Communicative and Immersion approaches and experimenting in class. It has opened my eyes to the many different approaches that exist and provided suitable challenge for my professional development as a language teacher as I seek to improve my practice and support for students.
I have also been fortunate enough to attend the OLEVI Excellent Teacher Programme at another school and this provided a welcome opportunity to stop and consider what excellent learning and teaching looks like in the classroom. This has led to me using the DR ICE model when reflecting on lessons and has inspired me to want to use IRIS Connect more effectively in the coming year to develop Lesson Study and Coaching as an approach to improving the quality of learning and teaching in lessons.
At the end of each academic year, I always take time to talk in detail with each class about what they think about how the year has gone. I invite comments and opinions on the teaching approaches used during the year and what impact they have had on their progress. These sessions are always interesting and very informative and provide a reality check for me as the teacher. However, I am always a little surprised with how contradictory their responses are with respect to specific approaches. Opinion is always split where some students find a particular approach very effective and others do not. This is really the most difficult part of getting things right in the classroom. There is no such thing as a one size fits all approach. I have been reminded once again that there is no such thing as a ‘magic bean’ methodology or approach I can use that will be appropriate and effective for all students. They are fickle and young and have to deal with many different issues, barriers to learning and emotions and all come from different backgrounds with different experiences. With such a wide range of individuals in each class, there cannot be a single approach that will have a positive impact on all students all the time. However, we as teachers are all faced with the ‘learning and teaching’ fads and fashions in different ways and it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees at times. Getting caught up in the ‘tick box’ approach that has been rampant for some time and doing things simply to please lesson observations that don’t reflect everyday practice is a dark and fruitless pit to be avoided at all costs. Letting go of the judgement mindset and the pseudo accountability model is refreshing and remembering that excellent learning and teaching is often a messy and chaotic affair and this is OK.
Another aspect I have discussed with students is the level of challenge in lessons. They have said they have been frustrated at times because they were not sure due to the TL90Plus approach and some stated openly that they felt like giving up because it was too hard to concentrate and focus for long periods time and exert the energy needed to stay in the learning zone. Obviously, I could see this unfold in lessons and I have had to adapt and be more responsive at times in order to keep the comprehension of the lesson going and used a range of blended approaches to address this. On the other hand, stretch and difficulty and helping them to deal with their frustrations is desirable because if they are given a regular diet of lessons that are too easy in the ‘comfort zone’ of the teacher, how can progress be made? Managing this conflict and dynamic between challenge and comprehension is a massive area for me to further improve my practice and is the first area I would like to study using IRIS.
The one area that has come out my reflections on the year and discussions with students is that of ‘feedback’. Some students have stated that I give lots of verbal feedback but they would like more written feedback so that they can refer back and others have said they would like more frequent verbal feedback on a lesson by lesson basis. It is here that the theme of my reflection comes to full light. I need to provide a blended approach to feedback which includes all aspects of commentary and suggestions for improvement as the students needs are often very different even within a class. Having trialled the use of Google Classroom with a class this past term, I am very excited as I have discovered a way to increase the range and type of feedback on an individualised basis which is manageable and can also provide a rich source of informal assessment opportunities. The feedback would then be available to the student at any time and provide a learning dialogue in a more natural way. Using Google Classroom creatively and purposefully removes the classroom walls and allows students to learn in a less stressful and low stakes environment and increase the focus lesson content and skills. They can respond to the feedback in their own time and can seek clarification if needed. Through this process, providing meaningful Close the Gap activities as bell ringer starter activities will further close the gap and allow some freedom within lessons to focus on activity rather than explanation and create opportunities to develop a flipped approach to learning and further increase the variety of learning the students receive.
The last point I want to raise in this reflection is that of using stories. At the start of the year, I produced a range of ‘Quick Readers’ to use in lessons to model the language I wanted the students to acquire and use and set about developing ‘circling’ and ‘PQA’ from TPRS. Students have stated that they like the approach but the content is boring and childish. This has posed a real challenge for me as there are not suitable books available and TPRS has not really been fully explored or used here in the UK. In response to the students, I have had to become a better writer and consider the content and genre within the stories to improve engagement and impact. I have produced a few cliff hangers and a horror story to trail with GCSE classes and the engagement was much better and discussions in the target language following reading were richer and more realistic than before. For this reason, I intend to produce a series of ‘Quick Readers’ over the summer break to address this issue.
This has been a very productive and challenging year for me and the ground is set for next year. I love teaching because it is the best job in the world.