Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach

What do Penny Ur, Willy Cardoso, and James E. Zull have in common? They all presented at the 2012 IATEFL Conference, and they all referenced the connection between reflecting on experience and learning.

If you know me, or my blog, you know that I’m quite passionate about the subject of reflective teaching. I’ve done a few presentations/workshops on the subject, and will soon be doing another at the KOTESOL Reflective Practice Symposium in Busan on April 21. I’m very excited about this, especially since I’ll be in the good company of friend and reflective practitioner, Michael Griffin.

This shameless plug is simply to say that when I saw these three speakers on Glasgow IATEFL Online, my mind quickly made links to how their individual takes on teaching and learning connected to my understanding of the experiential learning cycle and reflective practice. Here are the links I noticed.

Continue reading “Linking Experiences: How We Learn to Teach”

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Making a Request: To Use L1 or L2? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication

After two weeks of spiraling through the experiential learning cycle (ELC), I’ve finally arrived at the last stage: Now What? otherwise known as, Active Experimentation or Intelligent Action (See Carol Rodgers).

Often those who write about reflection will stop before this final phase (…) Dewey’s notion of responsibility (…) implies that reflection that does not lead to action falls short of being responsible.

– Carol Rodgers, Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking

Well, I’ve been tempted to be irresponsible. My need to move on to a new topic has been gnawing at me all weekend. But, my desire to see this process through trumps everything else. I’ll push forward.

Continue reading “Making a Request: To Use L1 or L2? – Bridging Reflective Inquiry and Nonviolent Communication”

Learning No.3: Time to Process, Time to Reflect

I believe that student feedback is a teaching compass. Although it takes a bit of courage to receive feedback on my classes, it provides invaluable insight into how I can create more effective lessons. The two usual questions I ask my participants at the end of each session are along these lines: What did you learn during the session that was significant or important for you, and why was it significant? Would you change anything about your learning experience in order to increase your learning, and if so, how would you change it? Some answers don’t reflect their learning. Instead they offer me warm words of encouragement for a job well done. I smile when I read these comments, and wonder if these comments are subconsciously meant for themselves.

During the fall semester, one participant’s answer to the second question reminded me about the importance of a learning skill I claim to practice on a consistent basis: reflective inquiry. She hoped that we could spend more time in class to reflect on what we learned during the lesson, and expressed how this would help her understand and internalize the subject matter.

I was embarrassed. As a student of experiential education at SIT, and the fact that I base this blog on reflective practice, how couldn’t I have noticed that I had exempted time for reflection in most of my lessons? She had placed a magnifying glass on my bad teaching habit. I have a tendency to place too much emphasis on the experience, and as a result, there is little time left at the end of class to look back on what happened. I was grateful for this participant’s insight into her learning process, and her willingness to share her need with me.

I have come to understand that it is my job to create an experience for my learners. However, without me facilitating an environment of reflective inquiry, I also believe that learning has a lesser chance of happening. Experience without reflection is like running in a mouse wheel: the scene stays the same, and we don’t get anywhere.

In her article Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking Carol Rodgers explores John Dewey‘s theories on experiential education. I revisited this article today to help me clarify why reflection is such a powerful learning tool. To sum up, reflective inquiry increases learning because it allows you to put an experience into slow motion, and in doing so, you are more able to place meaning on this event. Once you find meaning in an experience, you are then more able to act on this experience. This circles back to last week’s entry on meaning and motivation.

The slow motion I mentioned is also what I call process. Learning takes time. It’s a process. Sometimes we only understand a lesson months after we were exposed to it. The length of time it takes to really sink into learning something new depends on each individual. But a valuable lesson I’ve learned from being a learner myself is if we don’t give our minds space to breath and expand, it is hard to take in new information. The reflective process aims to provide such space.

When we act on what we have learned from reflecting on an experience, it means that we are playing with new knowledge and trying to make it our own. We are placing our own meaning on our learning via our planned and subsequent action.

So how did I respond to my participant’s request? I went back to my days at SIT with Pat Moran, dug up my handouts on the experiential learning cycle, and I went back to class with a new plan. I provided an experience (an activity around language learning). I asked them to think back on what we did, sticking to facts, not interpretations. Then I asked them to think about the benefits or shortcomings of this activity as it would relate to their teaching contexts. Finally, I asked them how they would use or adapt this activity for their students. I helped them connect meaning to their experience.

I know how valuable reflection is for learners, and I also know how valuable it is for teachers. For teachers, it helps us remember what our students experience during our lessons. It helps us be better teachers. This participant reminded this of this value.

From now on I will do my best to save time at the end of class for reflective inquiry and processing. My aim is to create space.

 

Let Creativity Flow

“When teachers’ knowledge of themselves, their students and their professional skills do not align with the contexts in which they work there is little energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning. Both teacher and students are then deprived of creative exchange and connection between themselves, subject matter and context. (Carol R. Rodgers* and Miriam Raider-Roth)”

My dear friend and colleague Kevin Giddens posted this quote to his Facebook status a few weeks ago. It resonated with me on many levels. When my beliefs are not supported by the system I teach in, then I feel blocked; I feel frustrated. On this level of emotion I recognize that my needs for freedom and creativity are stunted because I do not feel heard by my educational community. If I am not heard, if my teaching beliefs are not valued or seen, then my creative energy cannot flow. When creativity does not flow, both teaching and learning are in jeopardy.

As a teacher trainer in Korea, I hear a version of this sentiment on a regular basis: “We don’t have the time to be creative and make new material because we have so much to do beyond teaching our classes. Not only do we have to teach, but we also have to take care of after school study classes, as well as tonnes of bureaucratic paperwork. Sometimes we’re at school until 11pm! How can we be expected to be creative?”

These teachers crave creativity.  They want to connect. They want to help their students learn. They want to be passionate teachers, but where does the “energy or psychic space left for being present to the learner and his learning” come into play in such a reality?

The energy and space comes from knowing that they are not alone in their quest for creativity and connection. It comes from knowing that there are teachers out there who have the same aspirations. As teachers, “we are our best resources”, but this does not have to be a solitary affair. “We” includes our community. This is a community of like-minded colleagues. It is a community in search of a better way. You can create this community.

We find these community members by speaking out, and sharing our fears and desires. These members may be at your schools, at training courses, and in professional organizations such as KOTESOL or TESOL. Once you speak out, you can be heard. You have taken the risk, and you realize that you are not alone. You invent your own personal peer support network. This is where creativity is possible. When your aspirations align with those of others, creativity can flow.

Creativity = Change

You make that change happen.