Reflective Practice Challenge 2: Grammar, Tech, Feelings and Needs

Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge 2

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strongly disagree               disagree                      agree                   strongly agree

For John Pfordresher’s 2nd RP challenge (and his response), he asks us to share our opinions on the three statements below in relation to the scale above. I’ve done my best to respond to all three, but have weighed in most heavily on number three since it is my biggest area of interest.  If you haven’t joined the challenge, feel free to jump in here, or join the latest challenge, rpc 3: description.

1) Teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively.

I tend to approach teaching grammar more inductively, and I think that has a lot to do with the people I teach: English teachers in Korea. They do explicit grammar very well (I’m not sure what that would look like on a sliding scale of English teachers in the world ;) ), and I just don’t think it’s my place to stay on the path when they come our course. I want to help them see there is another way to approach learning English. When there is a need for more explicit explorations, we go there. I think a balance between both is important for my learners, and how the scales tip often depends on who is in the class.

I don’t feel I can add much more to the discussion that hasn’t already been eloquently stated by my colleagues who have completed this part of the challenge. Anne Hendler offers a list of questions that I think are important to ask before jumping to any section of the scale. David Harbinson offers a great explanation of why he strongly disagrees with this statement that I also connect to. As with all absolutes though, it’s easy to see there is a lot of grey area.

2) Teachers who don’t utilize technology in class are doing a disservice to their students.

I want to dive into statement #3, so I’ll cheat a bit and defer to the questions Anne offers in her response, the thoughts David shares in his, the sci-fi inspired exploration John reflects on in, #edtech, star trek and the matrix, and Hana Ticha’s link to his thoughts in Reflective Practice Mission Statement 2.

This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here http://www.espiralmana.org/resources.html
This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here http://www.espiralmana.org/resources.html

3) Teachers have to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs to be effective.

My understanding of this statement is that at any given moment, a student will behave a certain way, and this reaction is married to a need they have at that moment. For example, if a student is sleeping in class, he probably has a need for sleep. Pretty simple.

But what about a reaction that doesn’t demonstrate the need so clearly? What if a student is not participating in a mingle activity, and is just standing alone in a space that offers more privacy than is required at that moment? What need is he trying to meet by reacting this way? This requires a bit of guesswork, and it can begin at the feelings level. Maybe the student feels nervous to talk to others. Maybe he feels confused about the task. Maybe he feels cautious. Depending on the feeling, we have a clue into the need this student is trying to satisfy.

If he is feeling nervous, then maybe he needs companionship. He could do the task with much more ease if he knew at least one person in class. In relation to confusion, maybe he needs clarity about what it means to mingle. The concept of mingling might not be something he knows how to do. And if he feels cautious, maybe he just needs space or a bit more time to get started. Maybe he needs a bit of consideration for his process. These are the needs that Anne pointed to in her post and that list of these needs can be found here. I am also reposting the quote Anne found because I think it really helps formulate what I am trying to get to (thank you Anne!):

“Needs are more than the things we can’t live without.  They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and/or more meaningful experience as a human.  Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us.  When they are unmet, we experience feelings… when they are met, we experience feelings.”

Now back to the original statement. Do teachers need to be able to make these connections to be effective teachers? It depends on your beliefs about effectiveness. In a classroom environment, I believe we learn better when we feel a sense of safety and community. Depending on the composition of your class (amount of students, scheduling, age group…) this will be more or less challenging to foster. If effectiveness comes from this perspective, I think when it comes to building a sense community (trying to develop rapport between the students as well as between the teacher and students), having the awareness of the feeling/need relationship can be quite beneficial. I’m not sure teachers need to be able to make it as a explicit as I did above, but I have a sense that a teacher who is able to tune in to what students are feeling and needing will be able to provide a more fruitful learning environment.  When I read Juan Uribe’s blog, and especially his recent post on the iTDi blog, I imagine he is a teacher who is aware of this relationship. I have a feeling that many teachers out there already are but may not describe it this way.

I’m curious to know what you think about my take on no. 3. Does it resonate with your understanding of the statement? How would you describe your understanding of the statement?

*I’m currently writing an article on the subject of learning English via compassionate communication, and feelings and needs recognition is one of the tasks, so the process of writing this post has been very helpful. Thank you for giving me the space to dig in and to motivate myself to keep writing.

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15 thoughts on “Reflective Practice Challenge 2: Grammar, Tech, Feelings and Needs

  1. Hi Josette. I really like how you have approached your answer to statement 3. When I came to write my answer, I found it quite difficult and didn’t really answer the question. I think I focussed too much on students’ more global needs – their needs for studying English – and not so much on the needs in the moment, like you have described. I’d really like to think more about the different kinds of needs, and I hope that will help me to understand my learners better.

    1. Hi David,

      I’m really happy to learn that my post helped you frame your understanding a bit better. I can see how the statement could have made you think of linguistic needs. I think that is often what language teachers think of when we see the word “needs”. And the difference is something I played with in an iTDi post, A Needs Assessment of 2013. http://itdi.pro/blog/2014/01/03/13-for-2014-josette-leblanc/ I think the difference here is the connection between feelings and needs. I see feelings as a light that shines on needs. When we feel something, a need is either being met or not. With the brave exploration you gave in your description to the RP challenge, I have a feeling you’re already on the track of discovering what types of needs are out there. There are certain needs that weren’t met at that moment, and so you felt that way. Does that resonate with you? I have a feeling you might have the chance to explore this in a further challenge. Thank you David!

  2. Hi Josette and everyone else who has commented,

    What a rich dialogue and what a community of caring. I often find myself trying to “fix” problems which I might have very little control over. I try to remind myself that my students are whole people who make choices in my class. And I agree with so much that has been said here, especially the idea of setting aside judgment in order to see what is happening in class. I remember first semester this year, I had a student who was always sleepy and often zoned out in class. He was working 5 days a week to pay his school tuition and getting home a 12 AM. I had a chat with him at lunch and said, “You have the right to learn and improve in class. I have the responsibility of making that learning and improving possible. But taking advantage of that right is your choice.” I wish I could say that framing his behaviour in this way led to a change in what he did in class. But not so much. But it did help me to take a step back and respect the fact that he is living his life to the best of his ability. That he is making choices. And what he ultimately choses to do in class need not radically impact what I do in class. Now, when he zones out, I will often just say to him, “You have the right to learn.” It’s a (perhaps not so gentle) reminder that he is making a choice in that moment.

    In general I think that the only way to be the kind of teacher I want to be (whether that is good or effective is a little seperate for me) means creating a space where I recognize the students as people, not learning machines. And like you said Josette, learning happens when students feel safe and part of a community. But the only way to create that sense of safety and community seems to be to first recognize and celebrate my students as people and help them see each other that way. And sometimes that means taking a step back. That’s the way to make the space for them to step forward and more fully enagge with the group and the learing process itself.

    Kevin

    1. Kevin,

      “the only way to be the kind of teacher I want to be”: that’s it right? There is a teacher in my course right now who has already expressed 4 times (that I have heard) how he never wanted to be a teacher, and he was forced to do so by his father. Last year he almost quit and that coming to our course has kept him from quitting…so far. He has a family to raise and feels stuck. When I think of this, I wonder how he can do the stepping back that you mention. Maybe this is a conversation for the #redthumbforlove post, but when I saw that line you wrote it just hit me. What can I do each day to be happy with who I am and what I do? I am grateful that I have the peace of mind to be able to see my students as human. I am also grateful that I can think of the power of community. Like you, these things help me be the teacher I want to be. This is another example of how if you can’t get your own needs met, it will be impossible to think about your students’ needs. In this case we could also replace “teacher” with “person” in your comment.

      I think the story you tell of your student helps me see this teacher in a new light. He has already talked about dropping out of the course. He wonders if he’ll be able to make it though. As you said “you have a right to learn,” maybe my gentle nudging could be, “you have a right to heal. This is your time. Explore your needs and make the decision you need from a place peace.” Thank you Kevin. I’m glad you commented. Again. I’m in awe of the power of our little PLN here.

  3. Hi there

    Josette, thank you for sharing, and I am also responding to the third part of the Challenge.

    My understanding of student needs and wants is probably similar to yours: needs being more ‘hidden’ and less articulated, and wants more explicit, ‘on the surface’ and open.

    I read the post and then the comments and below adding what I agree with:

    Anne: I come to the problem of taking time to be fully present for one student means I am not there for the group. What to do? As a teacher? As a human? You wrote earlier: we can’t offer much more than empathy – I think it is already a lot on both teacher and human levels. Also, love the difference you outlined between ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing what’ and becoming more patient with how this impacts student learning

    Hana: It’s important to be able to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs but understanding doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take action

    Josette: it is less about fixing this situation, and more about simply being aware without judgement. Then you add one more powerful sentence about defining a good/effective teacher: knowing that there is more to the moment than what we immediately see.

    Finally, love the metaphor about ‘peeling’ the layers in the attempt to understand more. (and this is the way I get back to the reflective cycle, I think… :-) )

    1. Zhenya,

      As always thank you for your added layers to help us peel them back. I am starting to see that the peels may be part of the emergent ELC model. Still not sure what that looks like, but in a sense it feels a little less rigid than a cycle. I think I need to draw it. Soon. :)

  4. Thank you for all the mentions, Josette. :)
    I am glad you joined this part of the challenge because I was looking forward to your comments on the third statement. I agree that a lot hinges on beliefs about effectiveness (and I don’t really know what I believe it means to be an effective teacher – so much about teaching and learning seems to be out of my control). But I also really connect with what Hana has written: that there are times when the students feelings and needs are unrelated to what is happening in the class (and I would say this is more true with younger learners who haven’t learned to suppress that part of themselves yet). In that case, we can’t offer much more than empathy. And I come to the problem of taking time to be fully present for one student means I am not there for the group. What to do? As a teacher? As a human? And so I am perplexed.

  5. Hi Josette,
    I totally resonate with what you say in your post. There’s one thing that captured my attention while I was reading: ‘if a student is sleeping in class, he probably has a need for sleep. Pretty simple’. The thing is that I have a 19-year-old student who often lays his head on the desk, his eyes are red and he yawns occasionally. I’m not sure whether he only tries to catch up on his sleep. I think this might be some type of ‘foot feedback’ (Kate Nonesuch’s term). I can’t help feeling that he’s trying to imply more that his fatigue. I’ve already talked to him and his class teacher, who’s talked to his parents, but that’s all we can do. He apologizes for his behavior and says it’s not because he’s bored, but he does the same again next time. If I spent hours thinking about the causes, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. I wonder, what can I do for him? I mean, I’m aware of his problem but it’s not in my power to fix it because it’s probably much deeper that the symptoms. All I can do, as you say, is to create an atmosphere of safety and community. But that’s what I always do, I hope. So it’s important to be able to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs but understanding doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take action….

    1. Dear Hana and Anne,

      Hana, thank you for sharing this story here. It really puts the spotlight on how challenging it is to really know what is going on for someone else. In your example you are doing exactly what I was referring to in my post. You are attempting to connect to what he needs. The challenge you face is that he isn’t really able to share this with you. In my mind it is less about fixing this situation, and more about simply being aware without judgement. This isn’t an easy task of course. I think most teachers, you, Anne, Kate Nonesuch, me, etc., want to know the truth (needs) so you can help such students have a better classroom/learning experience. We all know this sometimes isn’t possible. We have so many things to juggle, and too many people to think about. But in my mind, part of being an effective (sticky word) teacher, is knowing that there is more to the moment than what we immediately see. When we have time we can peel back the layers, find the need and possible solution, and maybe change can happen from there… or not. The alternative is being blissfully ignorant to needs. This does not sit well with me.

      What do you think? Am I making sense?

      1. Hi Ladies!
        I guess knowing is better than not knowing and I can see what you’re saying that “blissfully ignorant” doesn’t sit well. For me it’s a matter of “knowing that” my students are feeling or needing things that might be outside of the class rather than “knowing what” they’re needing. I can’t solve their problems but it helps to be aware that puzzles exist in their lives which could affect their attitudes and behaviours in class. I am thinking of a boy in my class who lives with his grandmother and aunt because his mother and father abandoned him. His moods are up and down all the time. Or a girl who has a (diagnosed) developmental problem and sometimes can’t keep up with written work. They’re both wangtta in their respective classes and there’s very little I can do for them but knowing their situations helps me manage the classroom atmosphere better and be more patient with their rates of learning. Is this similar to what you’re saying?
        Anne

        1. Thank you very much for that example Anne. It really helped clarify what I meant and I through it I can see we are on the same page. Also adding the “that” vs. “what” was hugely helpful. Knowing that this is going on you are a bit more open to what may be happening for them and others around them. And as Zhenya mentioned, just doing that is quite a lot as a teacher/person. What a great discussion!

  6. I would amend statement #3 by changing “Teachers” to “Human Beings” and deleting the word “student’. (I would also tattoo it on everyone’s arm : )
    I had a discussion recently with someone where I said that there is no real difference between a want and a need. She said that a want is a preference. But my definition of a want is exactly the same as how Anne defines a need. My saying that your need is really a want is a judgement that I am forcing on you. It presumes that I know what is best for you. This is fatal to Love because it violates Respect.

    1. Haha… that would be a great tattoo! :) Thank you for suggesting that and for making me smile.

      Hmmm… you’ve got me thinking of the difference between need and want. When I use the word need, I’m talking about basic universal human needs. It’s not a “I want you to do…” or “I need you to…”, it’s more like a “I notice that you need…” Notice the placement of “you”. I am not involved in the need. I am just trying to empathize and connect to what is happening for you. Does that make more sense?

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