Post the success of the GMILE course with Scott Thornbury, a few of us (8 in total, from Brazil to Japan) decided to continue our journey on Stevick’s work and formed our own little community of practice and have been meeting every Sunday to discuss Stevick’s ‘Working with Teaching Methods: What’s at Stake?’ 1
If this wasn’t enough, I even cajoled my friend cum colleague to meet online to discuss those same chapters. I guess there is a different comfort level when you share with someone you have known a long while and whose work you immensely respect. Coupled with the fact that the colleague comes from the same country and has taught in similar contexts allows me to dig deeper in my awareness and beliefs.
The above two CPD practices reaffirms my belief that knowledge refines when it is actively shared with like-minded individuals. Consequently, I went a step further and volunteered, together with my friend cum colleague (mentioned above), to discuss Earl Stevick’s work along with our thoughts and our experiments with it via the Teacher Connect Time event organised by British Council, India. Staying true to my belief, I write this post to share about the event with you. The blogpost title comes from the event.
Prior to the event, we had floated a questionnaire requesting teachers and/or teacher educators to prioritise the following five categories as per their influence in a language learning classroom.
Methods & Techniques
Learner’s internal characteristics (motivation, self-belief, etc.)
Relationship among learners, and between the teacher and the learners in the classroom
66% of them ranked learner’s internal characteristics and relationships in the classroom as the top two factors influencing success in a language classroom, which is consistent with Earl Stevick’s much-quoted aphorism,
‘Success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between people in the classroom.’ 2
Stories provide affordances to connect with people and ideas, hence we decided to lead into the discussion via a case study influenced from our experience but contextualised to our audience. We urged participants to share their thoughts on C’s feelings and its reasons.
We weren’t surprised when they highlighted issues with motivation, relevance, self-efficacy, classroom environment, agency, autonomy, competence, affective filters and a few more. This smoothly led us into the need to understand the ‘inside’ of a learner better. Here are our rationales:
to know what hinders or assists their learning
to personalise learning
to use differentiation in teaching and learning
to create a positive environment where learners feel they are an object of primary value in a meaningful world 3
to know and be aware of the level of push/motivation they need
My co-facilitator summed it up well,
“If we don’t know the learner better, I think, we are disrespecting the learner and the learning process.“
Later we urged participants to share one activity they have implemented to know the ‘inside’ of their learners better. Here is a compiled list (not exhaustive).
This begged us to ask, “When should we think about the ‘inside’?”. One of the participants aptly responded,
“before, during and after”.
In other words, when you:
plan a course
plan a lesson
are in the lesson (incidental learning)
reflect on the lesson
We then moved on to the ‘between’ aspect. Language being a social phenomenon, we use it to express what we have in our minds, as a result, the ‘between’ component becomes crucial in a language learning setting. To put it a little too plainly, we don’t make meaning individually and we seek social approval almost all the time. Jane Arnold says it well,
‘…the sense of self is greatly influenced by the individual’s relations with others.’ 4
In our humble opinion, it is the teacher’s prerogative to build relationships and a positive classroom environment along with the learners. A teacher must aim to:
resolve any friction
build a positive learning environment
foster and encourage learning values
lose control (not treat oneself as the only source of knowledge/information)
foster collaboration and learning from each other (peer learning)
provide a confirmation of their learning
So, how do we do that?
Finally, we shared a research study finding on ‘Teacher Confirmation’ practices. Kathleen Ellis defines teacher confirmation as,
‘the transactional process by which teachers communicate to students that they are endorsed, recognised and acknowledged as valuable, significant individuals’. 5
The study highlights ‘a large, significant indirect effect of teacher confirmation on cognitive learning.’ 6 So, what are these teacher confirmation practices? Inmaculada Leon in 2005 listed specific confirmation behaviours on the part of the language teachers. 7
congratulates students verbally and non-verbally when they do something well
conveys to students confidence in their possibilities with encouraging comments
pays attention to what students say
makes eye contact and smiles at them
shows interest in answering students’ questions
shows interest in students as persons
Jośe Pinol in 2007 handed out questionnaires, with items relating to the language learning process, to secondary school students in Spain studying in the EFL context. The teachers were then given an explanation of teacher confirmation and asked to consciously incorporate behaviours listed on Leon’s teacher confirmation scale in their classes. With no other variations in the class content, after six weeks the questionnaires were again completed by students. 8
Notice the three words highlighted in the table. They reaffirm,
‘Teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal – or keep them from learning much at all.’ 9
Thank you Soumen Das Choudhury for collaborating and refining my learning.
If there was one suggestion I could offer any language teacher worth their salt, please try learning a foreign language and observe the journey. It has been my best teacher.
1 – Stevick, E. (1998) Working with Teaching Methods: What’s at Stake?, Heinle, Cengage Learning: pp 87-89.
2/3 – Stevick, E. (1980), Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways, Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle
4 – Arnold, J. & Brown, D. (1999) A map of the terrain. In J. Arnold, (Ed.), Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5/6 – Ellis, K. (2002) “Perceived teacher confirmation: The development and validation of an instrument and two studies of the relationship to cognitive and affective learning”, Human Communication Research 26, 2: 264-291.
7 – Leon, I. (2005), La confirmación del profesor de inglés percibida por el alumno e Educación Secundaria. Unpublished MA thesis, University of Seville.
8 – Piñol, J. (2007), La influencia de la confirmación del profesor en el aprendizaje del inglés en ESO. Unpublished MA thesis, University of Seville.
9 – Palmer, P., (1998) The Courage to Teach, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.