An Interview with Thomas Farrell from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Reflective practice is a way for professionals (in education, social work, medicine and many other fields) to assess their work and manage their own development. Even if you don’t know it by name you may well have engaged in a form of reflective practice in formal or informal training programmes. In this interview we discussed reflective practice, what it is, what it isn’t, and where it’s going.

I’ve done quite a lot of these interviews now, and everyone I have spoken to has been gracious and thoughtful. Some of the interviewees I knew little about before I spoke to them but in preparing for, and then conducting, the interview I have become interested in their work. On the other hand, Thomas Farrell is someone whose work I have been interested in for a long time. What would he be like in real life, I wondered? I enjoyed a long conversation with the charming Dr. Farrell at the JALT conference in Tsukuba, Japan last autumn. Both his plenary and his workshop demonstrated that academics do not have to be dry to be rigorous.

Dr. Farrell hosts an excellent website, where you can read more of his work. If you are looking for a book to start with, I think ‘Reflective Language Teaching: From Research to Practice’ published by Continuum is a very accessible introduction. His latest book is on my list when the next budget allocation arrives in April….

If you enjoy this interview please share it with your colleagues. You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

a class with no teacher from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I don’t blog about my classroom practice as often as I used to, but I still have a great interest in reflective practice. One difficulty in maintaining meaningful reflection is that your reflective needs change over time. A worthwhile exercise, then, is to revisit past practice. I have a blog, and a stack of notebooks from several years in the classroom. I like to look at what I’ve done and see how it fits with my current practice. How would I do this differently now? Have I changed, and if so have I changed for the better? Does this connect to anything I have read, seen or experienced since it happened?

I’m trying to piece together the genesis of this piece. About five years ago, I had a lovely class who I thought could do even better. To shake things up, I decided to opt out of my responsibilities for a week, and the blog post I wrote about that (and more importantly, the second post about the students interpretations of the experiment) generated a lot of discussion. A little after that I reviewed a book called ‘The Developing Language Learner‘, a book which made a tremendous impact on me. When I was involved in planning the PanSIG conference in 2013, I was keen to bring Judith Hanks, one of the authors, to Japan as a speaker.

This video is my presentation for the joint TED / CUE forum at JALT 2015 (if you don’t know the acronyms, don’t worry… I’m too far gone to pick them apart here). I always enjoy these events because you can see so many different ideas around a theme, but I particularly wanted to attend this forum because it was to be chaired by Thomas Farrell, someone whose work I have admired for a long time. The conceit was to present ten slides for thirty seconds each, but I just made a five minute movie and narrated it live.

I can now reframe what happened in this class through my subsequent reading into Exploratory Practice and Reflective Practice. As an experiment, I don’t think I’d be able to do this now. What is really interesting is to see myself as a younger teacher, and not necessarily a worse one. I’m very satisfied with my teaching these days, and that’s not good. Maybe I was a little less slick and a little less polished in those days, with a little less book learning, but I was probably a little more daring and possibly a little more engaged. Time to shake things up again?

 

About a week ago I wrote about an experiment in silence with a class, and promised to come back with a report on the students’ reactions. It really was quite enlightening. This is what we all learnt.

1. A particular result may not mean what you think it means
Looking back through the many comments on my previous post (which was one of the most commented upon I have posted) it is interesting to see that we, as teachers, slightly misread the whole situation. As professionals, committed to our students, caring about them deeply, we all assumed that the end result (constant discussion in L1) springs from the joy of freedom, the taking up of responsibility and other positive emotions. Actually, according to the students, they were terrified.

“We actually thought that you were angry at us and abandoned us because we use too much Japanese in class.”

“I took it for granted that you were angry and you didn’t want to give our class.”

I don’t know where this leaves Krashen. Despite the cause being the negative emotion of fear, the result was very positive.

“To do task without your help was difficult for me. However, I were able to hear much English. And I could speak more in English than usual!”

“…if we have no teachers, we must think how we should study. However,this situation is very important to us too I think. Actually we try to look for the answer more harder than usual. I spoke in English more ,moreover I heared more opinions of them than usual. Though we had much difficulties, it was very interesting to me.”

Of course, anyone who has met me in real life will find this fear highly amusing. Teaching teenagers we do sometimes need to wield a big stick. However, I don’t want this to be the dominant motivating force in my classroom, which leads us onto our next point.

2. Although mystery can be effective, we must ultimately provide transparency

When the students realised what I was trying to do, they were very happy. This was a vital step in the experiment – revealing the mystery.

“But I read your comment , you tried to see our class from all kinds of directions.”

“After reading this article, I noticed you care about us more than I expected. So I’m happy that you are our teacher!”

“We were so puzzled! Me, K., M.,and M. were discussing about ゙what’s happening!?゙ through out the whole class.
K. and I were even talking about it the rest of the day!”

So had I left the class cold, with no feedback or no discussion of what had happened, the positives of confusion may have caused longer-term damage to the rapport we have been building. I kept the next class very light, and the students kept up their good habits from the previous class.

3. Perceived teacher beliefs do not always reflect actual classroom practice

If you had asked me before this class if I believed in learner autonomy and a hands-off teaching approach, I would have given you an emphatic yes. But what I was actually doing in the class belied this. It was only by removing myself completely from the lesson that I could see how students had been relying on me to prompt them, feed them and cajole them into using the language. In the last week, I have given many of my classes similar opportunities and they have all surprised me by speaking fluently in English for as longer than I expected.  Had I been unwittingly restricting learner autonomy by doing too much, by jumping in too soon, by shutting down an activity simply because I was ready to go on to the next one?

This is why I think reflective practice has never been done properly in mainstream ELT literature. The questions we are prompted to ask ourselves are always the same, and we end up giving the answers we think we should. What was good and bad about that lesson? Why did that activity succeed or fail? We will never really know unless we break the mirror and try to rearrange the pieces.

An invitation to experiment, then. This weekends homework – choose a class and do something you never usually do. Then report back and tell us how it went and what it revealed.

Two workshop prezis from JALTCALL 2010 at Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan, May 29th – 30th 2010.

Parallel Learning: How online teacher development informs classroom practice

Video blogging and Podcasting: Interviews with English Language Teaching Professionals

As you can imagine, there is a fair bit of overlap between the two sessions, so I chose to use the ‘flavour of the month’ presentation tool to make one big slide with two different pathways. It was really fun mapping it out… I am not sure if it helps me think differently, in a less linear fashion, or if it just panders to the mind’s natural inclination towards multiplicity. But this is my first paper run through….

Anyway, I am not sure whether it is such a bad thing to have ones thoughts marshalled into straight lines by PowerPoint or Keynote. Something about Prezi does scream ‘Big Fat Gimmick!’, but let’s enjoy the whizz bang fireworks while they last.

Because I hate decontextualised slides so much (one of the greatest dangers to academic discourse today, I’ll venture, is the proliferation of mute online slideshows, stripped of the only thing which gives them a life) I have recorded a run through with commentary so you know what all the pictures mean. It’s forty minutes condensed into twenty, so it’s both too long to watch online and not long enough to make any sense. Apologies for the mumble, everyone else is asleep and I really ought to be myself.

Parallel Learning: How online teacher development informs classroom practice from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I made this using iShowU HD, which works very nicely. Screentoaster also seems good, but a bit more obtrusive.

If you were at either of the sessions in Kyoto, thanks! Questions or comments are very welcome.

“Oh, it must be wonderful to be educated. What does it feel like?”

“It’s like having an operation,”  said Treece. “You don’t know you’ve had it until long after it’s over”

(Eating People is Wrong – Malcom Bradbury)

Isn’t that true? Aren’t the best learning experiences the ones which you have time to absorb, reflect upon, digest? Perhaps the ones which click into place a year later, ten years later? What worries me is that we no longer have time to reflect. If an afternoon with a good book is a long look in a full-length mirror, is the internet a glimpse caught in a shop window on a pell-mell dash through a shopping mall? Maybe I strangled that metaphor…..

But it seems to be something of a ‘meme’ in the twitterverse / blogosphere at the moment. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but noticed others pop up with the same message over the last week or two. Maybe a lot of people are reaching the same point at the same time. There’s a very nice little graphic (and post) from Jeff Utecht which shows the stages of Personal Learning Network adoption.

Cresting that wave now, I think.

Alex Case asked me a couple of questions in his recent interview which I think are pertinent. The first was (a tongue in cheek) query as to whether I wanted to become the next Scott Thornbury. Well, the reason someone like Scott Thornbury becomes an ELT superstar (stop sniggering at the back) is through quality work over many years. His online presence is another outlet for that. Alex then asked “Do you think it is still worth getting published on paper?” The phrasing itself gives away his feeling, perhaps. But I absolutely think it is… and I worry that the amount of time I spend online is detracting from “real” research, “real” reading and “real” writing.

Bear in mind that I am blogging this, and I will tweet my new blog post, and I understand the irony in that. I have commented on several other blogs today, and got a great deal out of reading them. But I’ll just finish with this second quote from a book I am reading and enjoying at the moment…

“Well, that’s the lot of people like us. We abstract ourselves from the sphere of national effectiveness. We’re too busy taking notes to do anything… and the fault lies precisely in the things we value most”

So, are we all wasting our time? Deposit kickings in the comments box below and regular, classroom based discussion will resume soon.

I wrote this for my first year university students, who are taking their final classes with me this week. But it struck me that it fits very well with the reflective / anticipatory turn-of-the-decade feeling in the ELT blogosphere at the moment, so I thought I’d post it. There are some exercises at the end, and if you would like to answer the questions for us, or share your message to your future self, I might do the same….

1. Spring, 2. Summer, 3. Autumn, 4. Winter

What happens in one year?

In one year, the earth will make one revolution of the sun. It is long enough to create and gestate a human being. There are three hundred and sixty five days in a year, in which time you will blink about eight million times. They say that you eat eight spiders in your sleep in the course of a year, but I think that’s just an urban myth. However, I also heard that about 230,000 tons of natto are eaten in Japan in one year, and I do believe that.

The average Japanese employee will work one thousand eight hundred and twenty eight hours between now and next January. Shockingly, nearly one million people in this country are killed or injured in road accidents every year – something to think about if your cellphone rings while you are driving or riding a bike.

Of course Japan, like many other countries, will go through four seasons. The icy chill of winter, the life-giving spring rains, the sweltering heat of the summer and the crunch of dry leaves in autumn. Depending on where you are, you will receive between one and two thousand millimetres of rainfall in a year. You will also experience about one and a half thousand earthquakes, although you won’t notice most of them.

What I am trying to express is that a lot of things happen in a year. When you were a child,  a year was an unimaginable period of time. Some years may be uneventful, some may be thrilling, some tragic. But they will all, in real terms, be about the same length. You are just finishing your first year at university. What kind of year has it been?

What were the best and worst years in your life so far? Which was the most eventful year?

Which day in the last year stands out for you?

How did you feel in January last year? What were you doing?

What are your predictions, hopes  and goals for the coming year?

Write an email to your future self. Maybe you want to explain your feelings now, offer some encouragement, scold yourself, or just say ‘Hi!’. Then go to this website  and send the email,  to be delivered one year from today.

*extra points if you can place the title

I am a sucker for an analogy. Only this week I got contorted in a lengthy comparison of the plight of Southampton Football Club, starting the season on minus ten points but now powering up the third division, to a student who had missed the first few lessons and homeworks but had buckled down and caught up. I sense it went somewhere north of the head of my American colleague but no matter… I’m with George Lakoff when he claims that pretty much all human thought is expressed through metaphor.

It’s time for the mid semester reflections, to look back on what we have learnt, to reassess goals from the beginning of the semester and to galvanise for the final push, and I’ve been organising my materials ready for class. One of my favourite questions, and most enlightening, is the simple metaphor tester I open with. “A teacher is…. “, a “A learner is….” and “Language learning is…”. Unlike Dede Wilson (whose excellent article just dropped through my letter box wrapped up with a bunch of other good stuff in English Teaching Professional) I give the students no options, nor guidance. Nevertheless, regardless of level, the students have no problem grasping the concept and running with it … metaphor is a universal, after all.

Oxford et al. came up with a detailed taxonomy for these metaphors, but I’ll place them into just three categories. These are all common examples from previous classes.

1. Nuturing. Teacher as gardener, parent etc. Student as flower, child….

2. Controlling. Teacher as dog trainer, god etc. Student as dog, disciple…

3. Utility. Teacher as map, encyclopedia etc. Student as traveller, researcher…

There are a few things we can do with this. The first is to see which students match with our own metaphors as teachers, and which don’t. How are the students who see things differently performing? Are there discipline issues? Can we adjust our teaching to meet the needs of those students, or offer them support which fits with their beliefs about the learning process? I speculate that there is a strong correlation between metaphor choice and learner autonomy, for example.

But deeper than that, I wonder if the beliefs or the metaphor are the driving force. Can we, simply by reframing a metaphor, adjust the learners whole approach? If nothing else, it is the most immediate and direct method of raising the learners’ awareness of their own inner feelings about what they are doing.

Further Reading

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Oxford, R., Tomlinson, S., Barcelos, A., Harrington, C., Lavine, R.Z., & Saleh, A. (1998). Clashing metaphors about classroom teachers: Toward a systematic typology for the language teaching field. System 26(1), 3–50.

Wilson, D. (2009). Learning language is like… English Teaching Professional 65 (November), 18-19.

(and if you still want to know what a gift from a flower to a garden is, meditate on this)