I asked a colleague the other day, “Do you ever have one of those lessons where everything feels right – the students are into it, they are working hard, you’re feeling at the top of your game, and the time just flies by, almost effortlessly?” Of course he could relate, as most of us can…
The problem is… I’m having those kinds of lessons almost every time these days. In no way is this meant to be bragging, because if I knew what factors and dynamics were causing this, then I might want to brag just a little. However, for the life of me, I can’t put it into any kind of clear explanation. Everything seems to have come together, but it is frustrating as hell not being able to describe it in a convincing or intelligible way. Forcing myself to try, here’s what comes out:
- The students trust me. They walk into class (junior high and high school EFL classes) and start asking on the way through the door, “What are we gonna do today, Steve?” Maybe they think that it will be interesting or meaningful. I’ve taken to writing things on the board, like, “Dear Y-chan, Today’s menu is: 1. ____, 2. ____ and 3.____” because she always asks the same question at the same time each week.
- The lesson is about them. More and more, I’m able to set up lessons, or frame them, as “I need you to help me understand what you think about ______.” Or, “I want you to put together a _____, so I can use it in your juniors’ (or seniors’) class. Or, “You need to be able to (read faster, write faster, talk about yourself, understand Canadian speed English, etc) so we’re gonna ______ so you can practice that skill.”
- They are buying into my input/output balanced approach. I regularly elicit and write on the board why we’re doing what we’re doing. For example in Chu 1 (grade 7) I tell them that our 3 goals for the year are: 1) Learn to write quickly, 2) learn to read out loud in English, and 3) Learn to talk about yourself. Therefore everything I do with them must add to one of those 3 goals; they always know which one (cuz I elicit it from one of them).
- I negotiate with the students (more and more). They are speaking out more and more about how they want to do something as well as what they want to do. The more I listen to them and allow them to do things their way, the more effort they seem to be putting out. For example, the Ko III (grade 12) final speech last week “My 3/6/12 years at Seibo” had always been a 3-4 minute memorized speech with no paper allowed. This year they negotiated to be allowed to have their paper with them and to be able to read some of it. The result was that I got 7-8 minute speeches with much better content, a better audience reaction, and girls “pumped” at the end of giving their speech – smiling and feeling great satisfaction.
- I spend more time with students during class. I find myself spending much less time speaking and just getting out of the way as quickly as possible. I set something up, encourage them to discuss it, then get to work. This frees me up to circulate and answer questions, prompt, elicit and give encouragement and feedback. I have more time to explain things on an individual basis whenever necessary as well.
Well, that’s a start.
Dear Blog, I promise that I’ll try to get back soon to keep reflecting and recording my evolution as a teacher.