This is the first time we have a guest blogger and we are excited. Dylan and I have come up with a series of questions which are published on our respective blogs. We hope you find these insightful.
V: What might an outstanding lesson look like to you?
D: One quality that all outstanding lessons seem to share is that the learners (and the teacher) are fully absorbed and in a state of flow. For an overview of flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi), click this link.
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
There seems to be something effortless about outstanding lessons. The learners are engaged from the outset and this is usually achieved with an initial activity which sparks off their interest and activates their prior knowledge of the topic. This initial activity flows into a subsequent activity which encourages learners to share and pool their knowledge, in the process demonstrating their current level of competence to the teacher. Armed with this knowledge, the teacher provides feedback, which may consist of introducing new language to fill in the gaps in the learners’ knowledge, some corrective work to ensure they are able to use key language accurately, or a guided discovery activity which leads the learners into discovering new language patterns.
All outstanding lessons I have observed have an activity which has been purposefully designed to give the learners the opportunity to practise new language in an authentic task with a clear communicative function (an informational or transactional task which replicates something learners might be required to do outside of the classroom).
Finally, some sort of plenary task which allows the learners to reflect upon, review or summarise their improved understanding of the language area covered during the lesson should be included to demonstrate that learning has taken place is surely essential to any outstanding lesson. This should always be accompanied by a collective gasp of surprise from the learners that the lesson has finished, demonstrating the adage that ‘time flies when you are having fun’.
V: Who might an outstanding English Language Learning (ELL) specialist be?
D: When I think of outstanding ELL specialists, I paint a mental picture of somebody with impressive subject knowledge, attention to the needs of individual learners, the ability to engage and inspire learners, a capacity for encouraging independent learning, and personal qualities such as patience, kindness, a sense of humour and assertiveness.
V: Should ELL specialists be bound to schemes of work? How much should a teacher steer away from the SOW?
D: Unless a scheme of work has been tried and tested over a period of several years with different classes, it is unlikely to be the finished product and will need to be modified and amended as and when problems and issues are identified. If teachers are bound to untested schemes of work, they will be find themselves in a double bind, caught between the demands of different stakeholders, such as course directors, parents or employers who want to see performance objectives achieved, and the needs of individual learners.
Schemes of work should guide but not constrict. Language learning results from the complex interaction of a set of performance skills which means that progress can be measured but is almost impossible to predict. A ‘one size fits all’ scheme of work does not account for individual learning factors so the needs of each and every learner will vary.
A scheme of work which is personalised for every learner may be the best alternative if our objective is to address the learning needs of our students. However, this is unlikely to satisfy neither stakeholders (academic managers, parents, students, employers) who might want to see a clear demonstration between effective teaching and measurable performance objectives nor teachers who may not have the time to collaborate with learners on developing individual learning programmes and objectives.
This question underlines the importance of the role of academic managers who need to act as intermediaries between the different parties involved in language learning.
What do you think makes a good ELL specialist? Do you think Dylan has hit the nail on the head or are there other factors to consider? I would like to hear your views.