Have you experienced a difference in the effectiveness of your delivery of the same lesson facilitated the second time around? It could be an hour or a couple of days or months after your first delivery. From my experience, we are usually in a much better position when facilitating it the second time. Of course, the lesson might turn out worse than the first time due to other factors but I am assuming we would still be better placed delivering it as the second one than the first. There are some obvious reasons; we have experienced the challenges foreseen play out in reality, we have noticed what does or doesn’t excite the learners, we have an opportunity to avoid any mistakes made the first time and importantly we might have upgraded, however infinitesimally, our skills and/or knowledge in between those two lessons.
This isn’t restricted to delivering lessons. God forbid, if we had to redo our PRESETs, I am quite certain we would be in a much better position to absorb, critique and reflect on the course content and its delivery. This is one of my top reasons for writing these blogposts, as I go through the comment threads, the course material and the supplementary articles of the NILE TD course I recently completed. So, this comes as no surprise that an activity on the course which I understood as fun, information-exchanging and rapport-building might have been designed with a much deeper goal in mind or probably it is Alan Maley’s article that affords me a fresh pair of glasses to view the said activity. I will come back to the course activity shortly but first, let me share with you my understanding of the article.
I am referring to Maley’s 2019 adapted version of his own paper ‘The teacher’s sense of plausibility re-visited’ published in 2016. His aim behind writing the paper was ‘to give substance to Prabu’s (1987) concept of the “teacher’s sense of plausibility”. That is to say, explore the way teachers develop professionally and personally by building a personal theory of teaching action based upon their own accumulated experiences – and reflection on them (ibid.). In the paper, Maley reflects on his life; right from childhood, and the key influencers, divided into five strands ‘places, personalities, ideas, publication and critical moments’, that have directed his ‘own continuing development of a personal ‘theory’ of teaching’(ibid.). Let me give you a glimpse of what he is talking about.
As a consequence of the town Maley grew up in, his score on a crucial standardised test at age 11, his parents’ achievements as students and the help he received from the two headmasters between the age of 11 and 16, which in turn got him scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge universities, following were the beliefs (personal theory) he formed:
A profound distrust of and disrespect for standardised testing.
A belief that teachers can be agents of transformation.
A belief that, if you are reasonably intelligent, hard work will get you a long way.
Without some luck, it is difficult to succeed.
It was humbling to notice the evolution of Maley’s beliefs as he progressed in his career. It was in the late 70s, after two decades of teaching around the world, did he get convinced that the ‘best kind of teaching is responding to learners’ needs, not forcing a preconceived package on them. So teachers need to ‘get out of the light’ and let learners learn (ibid.). I take his constant reflection on his beliefs as a warning to not build a static personal theory of teaching.
To me, this is a compelling exercise to deep dive into our highly subjective journey influencing our understanding of the word ‘teaching’ and in turn ‘learning’. It could be a powerful tool to extract our deep-rooted beliefs. Thinking back to my PRESET, I can only imagine what reading this article, at the time, would have done to my teaching and learning notions, and how exchanging the influences leading up to our choices of pursuing teaching professionally with fellow trainees could have coloured my approach to TPs. I can’t help but reiterate one of Maley’s concluding thoughts, ‘Regular group sharing and discussion of individual senses of plausibility can be highly rewarding as part of a teacher training programme.’ (ibid.)
Coming back to the course activity I referred to earlier. In unit 3.1 of the course, we were asked to chart our journey of teaching leading up to the present, and post it on a common thread. It was fascinating to read my fellow trainees’ posts; not so surprisingly most of us hadn’t started our careers as teachers. Observing the diversity in our paths and the influencers; from family members to opportunities, was a CPD in itself. I would love to take this activity to my next teaching education course and probably extract more mileage out of it by facilitating discussions on the participants’ personal histories of teaching or leading up to pursuing teaching. Here are some discussion questions that come to my mind:
1. Looking back to your initial days of teaching, what do you notice about yourself? Has anything changed? (INSET) / Looking back to your early childhood, what do you notice about your understanding of ‘teaching’? Has anything changed? (PRESET)
2. Are there any common patterns and/or distinct differences between your and your colleagues’ journeys?
3. What title would you give to each of your stepping stones?
4. What do you think is the purpose of this activity?
Would you like to add one? I’d love to read it.
It would be befitting to end with Maley’s concluding remark where he quotes Young’s comment in his study proposal (2016), ‘Very few previous studies in applied linguistics have addressed the synergy between the personal history of teachers and learners and the discourse of language learning in the classroom …
Maley, A. (2016) The teacher’s sense of plausibility re-visited, Indonesian JELT, Vol. 11, Number 1, pp 1-29
Maley, A. (2019) Introduction, ‘Developing expertise through experience: Ideas for continuing professional development, British Council, Part 1: 4-20 (You can download a copy via this link)
NILE TD (2022); Activity 3.1 Who and What have influenced your professional development?
Prabhu, NS. (1987) Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Young, R (2016 – ongoing project) History in Person: Moments of language teaching in the personal histories of teachers. Wuhan: Central China Normal University.