October 7

Managing expectations

This post contains some ideas and feedback from a PD session I recently gave at Active Language, including links to some articles which I read in preparation for the session.  Many thanks to all my colleagues for their input during the session – what a wonderful group of people to spend a Wednesday morning with!

To begin with, my colleagues worked together to discuss three of the activities from Scrivener’s article on Demand High Teaching.  Here are what they considered to be some of the advantages and disadvantages of each:


+ you can revisit tasks and look at the language in a different way, e.g collocations

+ the task could be revisited in a disappearing sentence activity

+ it was suggested that changing partner as well as focus would make the activity more engaging

– it can be a struggle to motivate learners to do a task once, let alone two or three times!

– there is a coursebook culture here in Spain of “Ya lo hemos hecho” (We’ve already done it)

Upgrading feedback

+ perseverance leads to longer chunks and better retention of language

+ perhaps focus on rhythm and intonation more than just speed

– does it confuse the learner? (this is where your intonation plays an important role)

– do we want to / need to be constantly pushing the goalposts?

Who confirms corrections?

+ can work well to develop group rapport, but (-) needs to be done carefully

– importance of nominating learners, so it doesn’t always become one dominant learner shouting out corrections

– work on changing your own gestures (avoid using a squiffy face when learners get something wrong, or always challenge them with “Are you sure?” even for simple questions as this creates a funny, positive learning environment)

It also felt that a lot of people do these things, or similar things, anyway and one of the reactions against Demand High has been that it perhaps assumes that what we’re doing in the classroom isn’t enough or is wrong, which should never be the way to approach teacher development.  There are some interesting responses to “What is Demand High?” from an #AusELT chat a couple of years ago and another reaction to Demand High (with useful links to others!) from Steve Brown.

After a brief chat about the “input factor” (I recommend watching this video – Teacher Expectations) and how our expectations about our learners, both linguistically and behaviourally, affect the way we treat them, I asked them to discuss the following:

task completion = learning

There were a number of interesting points raised.  For example, one of my colleagues, Jill, pointed out that for our younger Spanish learners, it is all about task completion, and that they are often given the  task of completing anything which wasn’t done during class time for homework.  She suggested that we be more transparent with our learners and explain the rationale behind the task so that they become more conscious of the thought processes going into completing it.  The idea of “mindless” activities was raised by other colleagues, who pointed out that in some cases, such as gapfills, you can often complete the task effectively with very little challenge.  Another colleague, Andy, mentioned flashcards and questioned whether his group of VYLs are actually aware of what they’re saying or have simply been conditioned to say a certain word when they see a certain image!

Finally, we considered the expectations we face as teachers: this question of whether our learners are actually learning as we face the pressure of working to a pacing schedule, with coursebooks which are more often than not full of linguistic islands.  We work with different sets of books – some of which are very complete in terms of materials (Footprints or Complete First) and others which are a little more sparse (Gold Experience) – and, in groups, we looked at a single grammatical point from a number of books to evaluate how much page space is devoted to it and consider how we could review it in later lessons.  Some ideas were:

  • pre-empt and pre-teach tricky lexis or structures by using them in routines from the start of the year.  This way, when learners are faced with ‘learning’ that particular language, they will have already been using it and will be more familiar with it
  • revisit previous grammatical points when working with texts in later units
  • extend tasks to personalise them, e.g. for a sentence completion task, ask learners to change the sentence so it’s true for them, or use it in a roleplay
  • Find someone who… is always a popular mingle activity which works well with many grammatical points or lexical sets
  • make learners in exam classes more aware of how that language is relevant to the exam.  E.g. reported speech at B1 level might be seen in Writing Part 1, or using a second conditional sentence in a B1 writing can get them a higher mark
  • make use of transcripts from listenng activities to work with the laguage more (3XP!)
  • grammar or vocab boxes to be used at the start/end of the lesson or for fast finishers were also suggested
  • verb cards can be used over and over again to practise different tenses
  • with the more complete books, identify the core material you want to use with learners – you can always go back to do other items if there is time
  • think about when you do review pages and tests (immediately at the end of the unit? at the end of the following unit? once a term?)

Once again, thanks to all the Active gang for the session 🙂


Posted October 7, 2016 by Teresa Bestwick in category Professional Development

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