Since late March, I’ve been working for LanguagEd to provide Italian teachers with feedback on their lesson plans in preparation for the prova orale of the concorso ordinario. I can’t tell how incredibly rewarding this experience has been. Initially, I was going to dedicate only a few hours, but I’ve learned so much and reflected on so many things that I basically decided to plan my agenda around these sessions – not the other way around.
However, after just a couple of sessions with these teachers, a few trends started emerging from their main questions, insecurities, and difficulties.
I organized them into three categories following the KNOW-SHOW-GROW approach I’ve introduced in my recently published book: The Owl Factor: Reframing your Teaching Philosophy.
For some context on the KNOW-SHOW-GROW approach, I suppose it suffices to say that in any teaching/learning context, that’s how things are exchanged between the teacher and their students using different resources. In fact, I think we can reflect on the teaching endeavor and realize that KNOW-SHOW-GROW is the essence of what we do. Teachers and students know something and exchange that knowledge by showing it to one another, which results in some type of growth. Now let’s look at how this translates into what I’ve learned.
1. KNOW: translate theory into practice
Knowing what to do or should be done is different from knowing how to do it and what focus to choose. I’ve noticed that some teachers find it difficult to translate their theoretical knowledge – much of it gained from the quite thorough LanguagEd online courses – into practical application. That might mean not being able to follow the main pillars of a given approach despite knowing they should be part of the lesson.
What happens is that the teachers are so eager to share how much they know about different approaches and methods that they try to include as many as possible even when their lesson is clearly not based on all of them. One of the most common examples is introducing constructivism and student-centeredness as part of their lesson plan and failing to plan a truly constructivist and student-centered lesson – or at least a part of it.
An example: constructivism
Let’s take constructivism, for example: you know that constructivism is about building knowledge together through interaction and exploration. You also know that students should be agents of their own learning process and that teachers should become the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. However, most of the concorso lesson plans I get are still quite structured around what the teacher gives the students, how the teacher wants the tasks to be done, and what tools the teacher wants them to use. There’s no voice and choice.
Imagine for a moment one of the greatest Italian educators, Maria Montessori. Try to visualize the children in Casa dei Bambini walking around this environment that was specially prepared for them to explore and find out things on their own. They let their curiosity guide them and exchange with one another using whatever tool they can find to learn. The structure is only access to the environment and the tools within it. That’s a fine example of constructivism that favors inductive learning because students move from the microlevel and generalize to the macrolevel. Naturally, I don’t think the entire lesson can or should be like this, but it is a helpful guiding principle.
Here are some related actionable tips:
- Don’t base your lesson on too many theories. Focus on what matters for the outcomes you’re pursuing
- Eclecticism, i.e. drawing on different methods, is OK. Just remember to keep direct instruction and teacher-centeredness in check. They are quite useful, but the lesson should be about the students
- Student-centeredness requires students to have voice and choice. Give/suggest them the tools and let them create/produce together
- Think of your lesson as structured – but also free and flexible – collaboration.
- Draw from your own experience or that of someone you trust. You need to visualize whether your plan makes sense in a real classroom, so try to think concretely: would your plan work with real students?
2. SHOW: arouse and maintain the students’ interest
The second lesson came to me when I noticed that many teachers get so caught up in what they need to cover that they don’t always consider what are the best possible ways of showing the students what they are supposed to learn. One of the characteristics of a great teacher has to do with understanding what can trigger the students’ curiosity and harness that energy to keep them engaged throughout the lesson. It’s not always easy or possible, but there are ways to conduct a lesson that can channel this energy and there are ways to kill that energy quite quickly.
One of the greatest energy killers is never allowing the students to guess what something is. It happens when the teacher promptly introduces the topic of the lesson and fails to explore the students’ connection to it (personalization) and what they might already know about the it (prior knowledge). Whether it’s a lesson about Elizabethan Drama or Human Rights, a good way to start is by engaging students so that they want to share what they know about the lesson and how that is – or isn’t – important to them. In a lesson about Shakespearian theater for the prova orale of the concorso ordinario, you could ask if your students go to the theater, for example. You could start by showing them a picture of Shakespeare and turning it into a guessing game or doing a quiz about his most famous plays.
Another energy killer is changing directions abruptly. I’ve noticed that the procedures some of the teachers choose have no purpose other than just fill a void and are not very well connected. Doing something just for the sake of doing it can lead students to apathy quite quickly. The best learning experiences are those where everything feels to connect perfectly, and students have that sensation that they’re “not even in class”. You can follow the LanguagEd PowerPoint template, but try to contextualize the language you’re teaching so everything can make more sense in their brains.
Finally, teachers can and should use their students’ background as an example but carefully. Certain topics are not exactly an invitation to sharing. If you’re talking about bullying, which is an extremely delicate issue, you won’t put your student in the spotlight and ask them to share if they have ever been bullied. This can backfire fast. On the other hand, if a student opens up about their experience, you shouldn’t shut them down.
Here are some related actionable tips:
- Open the lesson with thought-provoking images, videos, or quotes
- Connect what you’re about to teach to what students are interested in
- Let the students do the hard work. Allow them to brainstorm, guess, ask questions, think-pair-share
- Include smooth transitions between the procedures. Make sure things are connected
- Don’t simply fill the void with empty activities. Give them a purpose
- Introduce the topic of the lesson and the language from a context. Use reading, listening and watching tasks with a pre-, while-, and post-activity.
3. GROW: knowledge, skills and competences beyond the classroom
The last lesson I want to share is a short one. It’s about extending beyond the walls of the classroom. I normally think of knowledge, skills, and competences as a toolkit we help students develop. I relate all of it to the word capability. As you know, your lesson aims should be expressed in terms of knowledge, skills and competences, and linked to existing frameworks (e.g. CEFR, Indicazioni Nazionali).
However, it’s not just about what we want our students to be able to do but also about what they can potentially do. We teach students, human beings, not simply the curriculum. That means that the lessons we teach are not simply vocabulary, grammar or skills lessons. They can and should be much more powerful than that.
If I’m teaching my students about Shakespeare, I don’t simply want them to know about his plays or to be able to recognize the main characteristics of Elizabethan Drama or the language devices used in his writing. I want to ignite my students’ passion for literature and theater. I want them to draw from Shakespeare the inspiration they’ll certainly need in their future lives. If I’m teaching about human rights, I don’t simply want my students to be aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I want them to uphold the ideals in the declaration and to become human rights advocates.
When we teach something simpler, I remind myself that I’m empowering my students because English will give them more opportunities. Like plants in a garden, I know that every single student I teach is unique and because of that I need to take their uniqueness into account. But if I genuinely want them to grow strong and thrive, and if I’m willing to grow in the process and rethink my practice, I believe that I’m on the right path and that’s what teaching should be about. In my feedback sessions, I try to share this feeling with the teachers. Your lesson is about helping your students to grow and growing with them. If you show that purpose during your oral exam, I think the committee will see a powerful candidate in you!
I hope these tips are useful: let us know in the comments section!
About the author: André Hedlund is a teacher trainer for LanguagEd and he supports teachers individually in their preparation for their oral exams. He is a Chevening Alumnus and holds an MSc in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol and the Train the Trainer Certificate (Cambridge). He is a Michigan Certificates Examiner, Educational Consultant, Teacher Trainer, and Guest Lecturer on Language, Bilingualism and Cognition, and Methodology in university Master’s level courses. He is also the new Academic Director of EdYOUFest, a board member of BRAZ-TESOL’s Mind, Brain, and Education SIG, and a National Geographic Learning consultant and materials reviewer. André is a frequent guest in international ELT and General Education conferences. He’s the author of the book “The Owl Factor: Reframing your Teaching Philosophy” and he blogs at EDCrocks. He has years of experience mentoring and training English teachers.Did you enjoy our post? Share it with your friends: