Teacher Development

Good teaching, lists and feedback

At the very beginning of Delta Module 2, candidates are asked to state some of their core beliefs with relation to language learning and teaching. As one of them, I also had to state mine, and with the benefit of hindsight, I must confess that a few of my beliefs were rather half-baked.

After four months, Module 2 is drawing to an end, which means that we must refer back to the beliefs stated previously and reflect upon them. In fact, this is part of one of our assignments known as the PDA (Professional Development Assignment) Stage 4. Overall, it requires that we revisit our beliefs, and decide whether or not they have changed . If so, we must explain how they have changed and why.

Interestingly, as I started considering every and each one of my beliefs, my mind started wandering, and I found myself thinking about what epitomizes good teaching. I couldn’t resist the temptation to google: “what constitutes good teaching? ”. Amongst the top three entries, I found an article published on the Harvard School of Graduation website which talks about a short documentary produced by three HGSE (Harvard Graduate Students of Education) who decided to find out what good teachers have in common.

With the help of their classmates and faculty members from HGSE and Columbia’s Teachers College, Ray Ward, Catherine Park, and Kevin Lee received a multitude of answers which helped them compile a list of things that can make a difference in the classroom:

  1. Know who the student is, and what they care about.
  2. Model how to learn really well.
  3. Focus on students; utilize empathy.
  4. Establish a personal relationship with students to better engage them.
  5. Take your students seriously. Treat them as people capable of sophisticated thought.
  6. Be able to think on your feet and improvise
  7. Love to learn.
  8. Be reflective.
  9. Pay attention to how you’re communicating. Tone of voice is important.

I feel that this is quite a comprehensive list, and I think that most teachers would deem it relevant. However, I wonder how practical lists like that really are, i.e., to what extent do they help teachers become better teachers? Let’s say that your DoS points out that you should “be able to think on your feet and improvise”, does telling you that automatically enable you to do so? I don’t mean to nitpick here, but let’s consider it for a moment:

  • What does it mean to be able to“think on your feet”?
  • How can you achieve it?
  • Can you measure it?
  • Does it take time to be mastered?
  • Does it come with experience?
  • Can it be replicated?

As the saying goes “easier said than done”.

In conclusion, reading that list got me thinking about feedback. Perhaps, we oftentimes either give or receive this type of feedback which states something that nobody would disagree with, e.g. “you should be more reflective when planning your lessons”, but does not help us see how it could be accomplished. We may take for granted that telling people what to do translates into enabling them to do such things. I realize that how to give good feedback isn’t clear cut, but this type of comment provides no clear direction or suggestions as to what you could do to improve, does it?

Next time, I will focus on what constitutes  good feedback, and how we can use it to help our fellow teachers and students develop.

This post was originally published on Blog Disal: http://blogdisal.com.br/site/good-teaching-lists-and-feedback-sergio-pantoja/

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