Posts tagged: Students

The Number One Priority

Image courtesy of nightmaremode.net

As a learning director of a private language institute, there is one question I ask myself over and over again every day: “Is what I’m doing right now the best thing I can be doing to help our students learn?”. It’s such a simple and obvious question, but I’ve found that we don’t ask it nearly enough.

I have tons of competing priorities every day. Often I have to make a choice between such things as supporting an upset teacher, helping a learner whose parents lost their book, cleaning up a classroom, or filing some paperwork every ten minutes. When all these issues constantly crop up at the same time, I just ask myself that simple question and make my choice.

This question doesn’t just focus on the students though, even though at first glance you might think that. It encompasses every choice and action throughout the day. Should I spend extra time planning my lesson or use that time to read a research article on teaching? Is complaining about my day making anyone else feel better about being here and will that in turn help the students in all of our classes? Is staying out for that one or two more beers going to affect the quality of my lessons tomorrow? Will going out of my way to welcome a new teacher have a positive effect on their teaching?

As a teacher, and especially as a manager, we affect the quality of learning at our school far more than just in making choices involved in lesson planning and delivery. Every choice we make at our school whether it affects other team members, the students, or even the cleanliness of the school all contribute to creating a quality learning environment for everyone. Often, even many of the choices we make away from our schools affect the quality of learning, too.

How do you prioritize your day? How do you make choices between all the competing demands on you? Do you always make the choices that benefit your students?

Save Time – Make the Students Do It

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Wanna here a funny story? I thought so. Well, this one is about a trainee on a TEFL course. We all know many of us make quite a few blunders during that time and nights are lost stressing and sweating over our lesson plans.

Well, this particular trainee seemed far more worn out than most. She was almost ready to quit so it was time to step in.

Trainer: “What are you so stressed out?

Trainee” (almost in tears) “I’m up until 3am every night preparing my lessons.”

Trainer: “What exactly is taking so long?”

Trainee: “The pictures.”

Trainer: “The pictures?”

Trainee: “Yes, they take forever to draw.”

You see, this particular trainee was an artist. She was hand-drawing every single picture for her lesson. Gorgeously detailed and colored owls, tigers, horses, you name it.

Here’s what she did with them for her Beginner class.

Trainee: “Class, what’s this?” (holding up a picture)

Class: “It’s an owl!”

Trainee” “Good job. What’s this?”

Class: “It’s a tiger!”

Yep, she was spending hours drawing these wonderful pictures and using them for about 5 seconds in the class.

Moral of the story – don’t spend all night preparing an activity that will last 5 seconds :) .

While her story is a bit extreme, many teachers do this, especially newbies. Far too much time is spent preparing an activity when it’s usefulness in the classroom doesn’t warrant the time.

And usually, someone has prepared something similar before. That’s what the Internet is for. If you can find it on Flicker in two seconds, don’t bother drawing it.

Very related to this is a point Michelle Worgan brought up not too long ago on her blog. In fact, rather than preparing anything at all yourself, have the students do it! It will save you loads of fun and actually often improves the activity.

Having the students create the material will often foster more of a need to use English in the class and the students will have a greater investment as the material being used is coming from them.

A simple example is the TEFL classic, Celebrity Heads. This is the game where students put the name of a celebrity on their back and they have to go around the room asking yes/no questions until they can guess who they are.

For such a simple activity, it can take a long time to prepare. First you have to come up with celebrity names. Seems simple, but then, as a new teacher in a foreign land, you’re unsure who the students know. And then there’s the age difference if you’re teaching younger learners. Then you probably have to go ask a local. Then you ask for some additional local celebrities to show just how culturally sensitive you are. Finally you have to type them up, call up the IT guy and wait five hours to fix the printer, and finally cut them up into little pieces. And if you’re really unlucky, it’ll turn out that the celebrities the local teacher gave you were ones no one in the class actually knows.

The thing is, this can all be avoided. Simply ask the students to do it. That’s right, make ‘em work instead of you. Bring in a bunch of cut-up slips of paper and ask them to write a famous person on it. They’ll be more interested in the activity and it’s much more likely that everyone in the class will know who it is.

I have my students come up with the material for many of my activites. I’d say a good 70% of activites in Rewards books can be improved simply by having the students come up with the language rather than being given it. Role-plays, drawings, example sentences? Again, my students usually do it.

So next time it’s 3am and you’re on your 5th cup of coffee, ask yourself, “Couldn’t I just have my students do it?”

Happy planning :)

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