Changing the scenario – a tribute to my #RPPLN

It often happens that I’m on my way to the classroom, excited and eager to teach, because I have prepared an amazing activity and I can’t wait to present it to my students. I automatically assume that my students will get infected by my enthusiasm. But as soon as I open the door I feel disappointed. All I can see is students sitting on radiators, playing with their mobile phones, some reluctantly shuffling to their seats when they spot me. It’s like hitting a wall, a wall of opposition to whatever comes next. My expectations are shattered. I get slightly irritated even before the lesson starts.

It sometimes happens that I’m on my way to the classroom, tired and unmotivated, because I’ve had a long day or something went wrong in the previous lesson and I can’t wait for the end of the day. But as soon as I enter the classroom I forget about all my worries, strife and fatigue and I start smiling for no particular reason. The students are sitting at their desks, preparing for the lesson, looking eager to learn.

The fact is that our students (or rather classes) are independent entities who live their own lives so our overwhelming eagerness or doldrums may remain totally unnoticed. But we do influence each other, of course – our emotions blend and a lot of chemistry is going on between us and our students. But, if we let ourselves get infected by our students’ bad mood, we can’t achieve our goals. Nor can we when we inadvertently or intentionally pass our ennui on to the students.

A couple of days ago, I felt exhausted after a long day at school and I was headed to my private lesson that takes place twice a week after lunch. I assumed that the second scenario would happen, but to my surprise, something worse happened; I was tired and the students looked reluctant to do anything at all. I told them they looked like zombies and that we should get down to work immediately, even though this was an optional lesson. That didn’t help very much. At that moment I realized it was not their fault that they felt unmotivated. So I changed my plan and decided to introduce a game. Luckily, I always have my teacher survival kit at my disposal, for example a pile of blank A4 sheets, a bunch of sticky post-it notes, a set of dice, various images, etc.

At first I handed out the A4 sheets – one per each student. I asked the students to make a question starting with What…. When they finished I asked them to make another question starting with When….. Then I let Ss come up with their own examples of interrogative words for their questions. We went on till they had about 8 questions. Then I crumpled my A4 sheet into a ball and asked the students to do the same with their sheets. The snowball fight could start (see the pictures above). After some time I stopped the fight and got each student to pick up a ball closest to them and unfold it. I made sure everybody had somebody else’s set of questions. They went back to their seats and discussed the questions in pairs. This was an unplanned activity and another idea sprang to mind while I went round the class monitoring. I thought it would be a good idea to draw Ss’ attention to grammar – in a playful, competitive way. So after the speaking activity, I asked each student to look at the first question on the sheet and try to spot any grammatical errors. If they thought it was correct, they stood up. Then we quickly went through the correct questions one by one and providing we agreed that the question was correct, the student recorded a point. If not, we tried to figure out the correct version together. Finally, the sheets were returned to their authors, who could see the number of points they had received. The activity was a huge success and I felt it was meaningful and useful, as well as entertaining.

Another kinaesthetic activity which helped me cheer the students up and liven up the atmosphere in the class was this one. I’m sure most EFL teachers know it; it has many variations and you can expand on it, depending on the matter you are teaching. You simply place sticky post-it notes with various words on your students’ backs. Naturally, the students can’t see their words. Their task is to guess the word by asking appropriate questions. This is a mingling activity and everyone can only ask one question (or a limited number of questions) at a time before going on to the next partner. If the activity seems to be going on for too long, you can stop it, even before Ss guess their words, and ask them to continue in pairs, now their partners helping them by giving definitions or various clues. Again, this game got the students off their seats and as it was an information-gap sort of activity, it encouraged them to communicate meaningfully (though with a limited amount of L2 at the beginning and with ocassional L1 remarks).

 
 
I’d like to conclude my half-reflective-half-practical contribution with a couple of references. I highly recommend that you read a beautifully written post by Kevin Stein, which revolves around the same topic. I was amazed by what Kevin says about the teaching profession: ‘Teaching is, “knowing what to do” within a very specific context, a context which is changing all the time.  It’s like an orchestra conductor whose musicians are all playing instruments tuned to their own emotional pitch’. Another must read related to this issue is a post by Kate Nonesuch If they come, they care. Kate starts her reflection: ‘I expected it to be an interesting activity. I was sure people would take part, and hoped they would enjoy it. But they didn’t seem to care’ and in the end she optimistically declares that ‘If they come, they care’.
 
But these are not the only posts that inspired me. Yesterday I came across another lovely post by Anne Hendler called Colorful Lesson, which reminded me, again, that teachers need to refine and alter their lesson plans on the spot if they want real learning to take place. 
 
The wonderful thing about having a #RPPLN (Reflection Practice PLN, a term coined by John Pfordresher) is that, apart from gaining the opportunity to learn something new from others, one is in touch with blogging teachers who experience the same, though in totally different environments. The benefits of a community for one’s reflective practice are nicely described in a post by Josette LeBlanc Reflective Practice Mission Statement: Community and Self. 
 
I would never have met all those wonderful people if I hadn’t had technology at my disposal. Technology in education is a hot, but somewhat controversial topic. But how could I read about all the experiences without an access to the internet? How could I put up a video on YouTube to show you what I do in the classroom? Our students should learn that collaborative learning is what works best. Speaking of technology and collaboration, I really enjoyed reading David Harbinson‘s post on using Wikipedia in class. And as I mentioned in one of my previous posts, John Pfordresher skilfully contemplates the use of technology in ELT in one his posts saying that ‘technology is a resource. Teachers need to understand how students use technology to communicate if we want to better aid them in navigating the world of today and tomorrow’. But still, what is the latest technology without a cordial heads-up from the teacher? What’s a perfectly equipped classroom without laughter, joy and involvement? Just a cold place, I argue.
 
This brings me to another subject; it was Rose Bard who got me thinking more deeply about the affective aspect of teaching and my teaching objectives. Do our goals overlap with our students’ objectives? Should they? Read this post to learn more about Rose’s thoughts.
 
Finally, I mustn’t forget to mention lovely Anna Loseva who was one of the first educators to kick off this Reflective Practice Mission Statement challenge. Anna’s reflections, for example the one called Feedback just happened, are so close to my heart that I sometimes wonder if I’m sane or I’m just imagining things.
 
Well, the conclusion has got longer than I expected. So that’s it for now…. Keep in touch, whoever you are.
 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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9 Responses to Changing the scenario – a tribute to my #RPPLN

  1. annloseva says:

    Hana,

    I'm currently wondering if I'm sane or just imagining things.)) That is to say I read and nod, as indeed, that is what happens. It is such an interesting feeling to read what I could've written myself, thank you for this!
    Thank you for this post. It's in two parts so my comment will be in two parts.

    – I've found myself trapped in expectations for a class that could never be met many, many times. I'm still trying to rein my emotions as I'm entering classrooms as I want to find balance. I mean I'm not ready to neglect my own mood or play a role of someone I'm not, acting out is not my way. At the same time, I want to give a class which will make the majority of students feel comfortable to be in. That is not to say allowing moods reign over our learning is the thing that should happen. This is the trickiest point for me at the moment, to find just the right type of decision I should make as a teacher to make learning happen in the conditions that we find ourselves on every class (remembering that every single lesson with the same people in the room is bound to be different).
    I've enjoyed reading about your activities! One of the goals I've set for one of the groups this term is more moving around, so I'm definitely going to try these one class soon. Thanks for this)

    – The second, tribute part is simply amazing. I really like it how you find a way to mention the people who have written something that resonated with you, and you just create this organic entity. It feels so warm to me.

    I always think I could say more but there is a moment when I'm lost for words, too. I'm happy we have connected, I really am, that means there will be time for me to say this 'more'))

    Ann

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Anna,

    I'm so happy to have your insightful, cordial and emotional comment on my blog. In this crazy world, it's so refreshing to be able to nod and agree with somebody's words. They've always taught me that people who disagree with me or have totally different views on the fundamental issues of life are important for my personal development. I strongly agree but honestly, it's sometimes so exhausting 🙂 So our PLNs and communities are green oases, places where we can rest and relax a little before we continue our missions….

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  3. Hi Hana,

    I totally relate to your first two paragraphs, and regularly feel disappointed at the end of a lesson after spending a long time getting it ready. But like you, I have had those students in my classes who just do or say something that brightens up my day, usually when I least expect it. It's these situations that I love, and what makes me enjoy my job.

    I love how you are able to just drop a lesson plan when you notice things aren't going well and adapt on the spot. It's no easy thing, but I've found that sometimes just doing things on the spot teaches you a lot more than you can learn if you just charge in with your lesson plan and try to stick to it. Fortunately that was something that I learned right at the beginning of my career when I was doing my certificate course. My tutors were very helpful and told us it's perfectly fine to adapt if something's not working out.

    I've met quite a few teachers who were scared to do this, and instead just pushed ahead with their lesson because it was in the lesson plan. At the end, the students feel bored, the teacher feels frustrated and everyone loses.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  4. lizzieserene says:

    Dear Hana,
    I am so glad to learn more about the situation you commented on in response to Kevin's blog post. It helped to be able to picture the context and your own perceptions and background walking into it.
    I also love how this post also touched on the second RP challenge and demonstrated your beliefs about some of the statements there.
    It is comforting to know that we all, as teachers, experience similar challenges and joys in vastly different contexts.
    I am honored to be part of this RPPLN with you all.
    Anne

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  5. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment, David. I’m happy to hear you had sensible tutors at the beginning of your career. I feel that the importance of thorough lesson planning is sometimes overrated. I did my MA two years ago, after almost 20 years of teaching, and I remember that the detailed lesson plans we were required to make as part of our practical exam were a nightmare for many of us – especially experienced teachers. I'm not implying the plans weren't useful but the process of creation was really stressful. Not that we weren't allowed to adapt them on the spot but the fact that the outcomes were compared against the objectives stated in the plans was daunting, especially for experienced teachers who suddenly felt like greenhorns again. Education is often criticized for ineffective standard testing and for killing creativity, but honestly, requiring minute-to-minute planning from teacher trainees or teachers doesn't sound very creative to me. I’m getting a little off topic now so I'll wind it up now….

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks Anne. I'm also happy to be part of this kindred spirits teaching community. Apart from keeping us sane :-), it helps us refine our views in a playful, interactive, and enjoyable way. And it's a great bonus to have comments from people like you on my blog because it reassures me that my reflection makes sense.

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  7. Didn't know if you saw that Doug mentioned how much he enjoyed your post here, http://dougpete.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/really-value-your-network/

    Inspiring thoughts! So glad you joined the blogosphere.

    Like

  8. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks Shelly. Yes, luckily I came across Doug's post some time ago – by mere chance = via my PLN :-). I felt really pleased and flattered when I saw my name on his blog. By the way, you know that I would never have joined he blogosphere if I hadn't met you and the 30 Goals challengers. Without all the support I would never have had the courage to start and go on…..

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  9. Pingback: An abject failure or a precious lesson? | How I see it now

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