How do you develop as a teacher? Do you rely on observations from peers or senior staff to tell you what you need to improve on? Do you evaluate and reflect on your own lessons? If so, do you do this informally or formally? Do you find that observing other teachers informs your practice? Do you read any ELT theory books or research articles?
There are plenty of ways I could improve my own teaching, but not all of them are within my control. I was thinking about why I struggle to develop as a teacher, and came up with these reasons:
- I’d love to observe my peers every week as I find it a great way to pick up ideas, but we have no scheduled time to do so.
- Senior management are rushed off their feet and get to observe us about once a year.
- If I’m teaching back to back lessons then I don’t have time to reflect on what I’ve just done, and evaluating a lesson later in the day might not be as fruitful or accurate.
- As for reading ELT-related books and articles, I prefer not to make all my downtime work-related.
These were the first ideas that came to my mind. Notice how the reasons started off as external, then became personal? It’s easy to pass the blame onto others, and say ‘my school isn’t interested in professional development’. That’s an attitude I had for a while, and it clearly added to my level of complacency. Because the school didn’t do much to assist me, I started not helping myself. Just as the school said ‘we would love to implement a peer observation scheme but we just don’t have time’, I would say ‘I’d love to find time to reflect on my lessons’, or ‘no one tells me which books will be good for my development’, which is code for ‘I can’t be bothered to find out’.
My attitude towards development has changed dramatically over the last year, and it’s to do with one diploma assignment. The DipTESOL requires candidates to create a self-development record, focusing on one area of their teaching which they wish to improve. It encourages self-reflection and analysis of one’s own teaching, encouraging you to engage in the development process and witness the benefits this can have.
Sure, I created my self-development record because I was being assessed on it, but forget that. It’s so useful that I’ll be making another one off my own back soon, and I’d really encourage you to do the same. Can’t find time? You can, if you want to. Here’s an overview of how to go about it.
Where do I start?
Pick an area of your teaching which you feel needs to improve.
How do I choose what to improve on?
Well, there are plenty of ways.
- You might just have a gut feeling that you are weak in a certain area.
- You might have realised by reflecting on recent classes that the same thing is becoming hard for you to do (‘blimey, my CCQs were shoddy today. And yesterday… and last week come to think of it’).
- Maybe something has been highlighted during a lesson observation as an area you could work on
- Maybe you want to try something new (like a whole new approach), and you think it will require a lot of evaluation and reflection.
What exactly do I need to improve?
Ultimately, you want to improve your technique/knowledge in a particular area. You can’t do that until you assess what you currently know, and how effective your practice is in this area right now.
The example I’ll give is a development record I made for improving my ability to give instructions and to use Instructional Checking Questions (ICQs). Why did I do this? Because after observing me, my DOS made a general comment that instructions were my weakness. ‘Instructions’ is a pretty broad area though. Maybe I do some things well and others poorly. I started observing myself with a diagnostic approach:
Question 1: What instructional techniques do I use in the classroom?
Question 2: Which of these techniques are effective? Which aren’t?
Here comes the hard part. Time to take the plunge…
Teach a lesson or two as normal, without trying to change your technique or overthinking things. Film yourself teaching. Watch the videos and answer the questions above.
It might be a good idea to relate some of your findings to ELT literature at this point. For example, I made the following observations from one of the videos:
- During the first instructions, movement around the classroom made the instructions unclear
- Students understood the tasks and did not require clarification (established by monitoring, not ICQs)
I then had a flick through Scrivener (2012), and found a criteria for giving successful instructions, in which he includes:
- Possible use of ICQs (as proactive) rather than monitoring, to check students are on task
- Consider position when giving instructions
There were a few things for me to work on straight away.
The great thing about filming your lessons is that you get to see the things you do well too! Check it out:
Well, that was fun. Is there more for me to do?
There can be if you want, but you can learn a lot from this task alone.
However, establishing what your weaknesses are is one thing, improving on them is another. Plus, if you’re actually doing the development record for the diploma, you’ve got more work to do…
After filming a few of my lessons, I’d come up with a summary as to where I was current ‘at’ with my instructional techniques:
So, establish a few things to work on. How do you go about ‘improving’?
You could underpin your self-development task with a bit of research. Flick through a few books that talk about instructional techniques, or perhaps ask experienced colleagues for tips. Watch some videos online maybe. Attend a workshop on the topic if there’s one coming up. You might not even need to refer to literature or get help to improve your technique, the answer might be intuitive.
Next you’ve got to try out the new techniques and reflect on their effectiveness.
Does this mean more filming? That was scary…
Then change your approach. How about just reflecting on the lesson afterwards instead? This is less intrusive.
How do I keep that accurate?
You keep it accurate by being honest. You keep it useful by making it focused.
I mentioned before about a ‘criteria for good instructions’ laid out by Scrivener (2012). I also read about stages to include during an instructional phase in a book by Scott Thornbury (2006). I utilised this background reading to make a ‘Checklist of Instructions’:
It took me about 10-15 minutes to scribble down ideas after each class, meaning I had to choose classes where I had some free time afterwards.
The good thing about this type of analysis is you start to recognise patterns. Imagine doing this over the course of 3 or 4 lessons – it can be a real confidence booster as you learn just as much about what you do well than what you need to improve on.
This is a lot more work than I thought…
Yeah, I’ve gone overboard a bit, but I’ve described two succinct ways you can approach a self-development task, and how you can tie these together. If you’re doing this for your own development then I thoroughly recommend filming yourself in action – it’s more insightful than post-lesson evaluations.
But I’m taking the DipTESOL, so should I do both?
No, I’m not saying both are necessary. If you’re doing a self-development task with the goal of passing the DipTESOL assignment, I’d say the following:
- It might be beneficial to mix up your methods of evaluation and reflection. You could learn more from it
- Be clear in the first instance about what you want to achieve
- Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable and realistic. The ‘measureable’ aspect is largely subjective as this is self-development, so be honest (if you want).
Can I have a look at your DipTESOL assignment?
Sure, here it is. I’ve taken the pictures out though because they have students in them.
Scrivener, J. (2012). Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT: A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts Used in English Language Teaching. Australia: Macmillan