RP5 – The Generalisation

“Skipping generalisations stage means being ‘locked’ in what we already did and might do again, and never seeing a ‘bigger picture’, or the reason for acting this or that way.” Zhenya Polosatova in her RP5 post on John Pfordresher’s blog.

Whenever I see the abbreviation we use to label the Reflective Practice Challenge (RP1, RP2, etc. or anything related to it, such as #RPPLN), it somehow reminds me of the Star Wars sci-fi series. I think it’s because my favourite characters C3PO and  R2D2 immediately spring to mind. So for me this RP Challenge, on a very subconscious level, always points to the future, even though I first have to go through several stages to be finally able to look ahead, a few steps forward.

So far I’ve taken the following steps:

1) I came up with my RP mission statement.
2) I remembered a negative interaction I’d experienced in the classroom.
3) I described it in full detail.
4) I analysed this single interaction (see this post).

Now I’m going to generalise the results of my analysis.

As Zhenya suggests, for the Generalisations stage, there will be focus more on our learning, or conclusions from that experience, or beliefs we could notice or discover based on the preceding stages of the Cycle (description + analysis). Here are some questions Zhenya proposed that may help me see that learning (or generalisations).

What did you learn about yourself (as a human-being, as a teacher, as a learner, etc.)?
I learnt that we all have plans and expectations – teachers and students. When our expectations clash, problems occur. I’d say that the ideal situation is when our expectations are identical with the students’ needs. But let’s be honest; this is just a beautiful dream. On a more pragmatic note, we need to be realistic about our expectations and always be prepared that our plans may fall through.

What did you learn about others?
The others don’t know what I want unless I tell them. So I think it’s a good idea to reveal what I expect, explicitly, on the spot, to avoid misunderstanding. And vice versa, I can’t be sure what the others want unless I ask them. Students are often in a position when they don’t feel it’s appropriate to say what their needs are. Thus it’s good to create an atmosphere of honesty and acceptance. But once I allow my students to be completely honest with me as the teacher, I have to be prepared to face their honesty without feeling offended if the truth hurts.

What did you learn about communications?
This question is related to the previous one. The fact that we often, for various reasons, hide our feelings and some aspects of the truth from others, hinders our mutual communication. In other words, what I think you think may not be what you really think.

What did you learn about class atmosphere?
I can spoil a pleasant or neutral classroom atmosphere by just allowing misunderstanding to happen. By wrong interpretation of a student’s expectations, I invite all sorts of negative emotions into our classroom. This, in consequence, hinders the learning process and finally spoils our relationship, not just with the student in question but with the whole class.

What did you learn about … [my role as a teacher]?
I’m not there primarily to make my dreams come true = to realise my lesson plans meticulously (in a way I am, of course but…). Most of all I’m there to foster learning. Learning can only happen if there is a minimum of obstacles (physical or emotional). By feeling the way I did during the incident I may have hindered the students’ learning. At least I distracted their attention in order to heal my wounded ego. I may have not but this is quite difficult to prove now, so next time I’d better avoid this.

This is my take on this part of the cycle. I’m looking forward to reading yours because that’s the best part of the challenge – the sharing.

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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11 Responses to RP5 – The Generalisation

  1. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana

    It is really cool to read your blog and see how you approach the challenges (including RP!) by… simply accepting them and sharing what you think. I am with you when you are saying that the sharing is the best part of the challenge (and the thinking preceding it, I would add)

    I think it is the first time in my life to be responding to shared Generalizations of the ELC. Hm, really interesting to see how they emerged from your description and then analysis. I am wondering how much right I have as a reader to agree or disagree with the conclusions you come up with: I think the most valuable part of the process is having your own, big or small, discoveries. Thank you for letting us see them.

    What made me think more about the communication process in class is your idea about a (possible) 'wrong interpretation of a student's expectations'. I am wondering how this interpretation can be right or wrong. I do agree though that being ready, and open, to the fact that the way I see something might differ from the way another person sees the same thing.

    The reminder from your post to myself is this one: 'it's good to create an atmosphere of honesty and acceptance'. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the specific sub-skills that we are helping students with, both linguistic and others. Among them, there is 'communication' as a wide area to define. Now, I am wondering if it is possible to help students see the value of this open and honest way to talk about feelings, for example… I think you mentioned in your other posts that it sometimes seems easier to write about something significant in L2 rather than L1. I share the same feeling.

    Thank you Hana for writing and challenging to think! 🙂


  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Zhenya,
    I really enjoy reading your comments. Everything you say makes sense to me because apparently, you think a lot about reflecting and classroom dynamics. I'd like to elaborate on three things you mention in your response:
    1) “I am wondering how much right I have as a reader to agree or disagree with the conclusions you come up with”. To me this sentence implies that there is something you see differently but you don’t want to interfere too much. I think you have every right to disagree with me and I think it’s absolutely appropriate and desirable in this final stage of the reflection.
    2) “I am wondering how this interpretation can be right or wrong.” Let me explain this: based on your students’ reactions, you may think that your students see you as an expert and expect you to possess all the knowledge. You may believe that they’d value you less if you didn’t have all the answers. However, this assumption may be completely wrong. Your students, for example, may want to be more autonomous and less restricted by what you think is correct. But unless they tell you explicitly, you will never know for sure. That’s what I meant by wrong interpretations. But it’s just dawned on me that interpretation is just and interpretation, and at the given moment it’s never right or wrong. That’s what you probably meant.
    3) “I think you mentioned in your other posts that it sometimes seems easier to write about something significant in L2 rather than L1”. Are you implying that our students may also find it easier, in case that had the necessary linguistic knowledge? Or is it just my interpretation? 🙂 Either way, that’s an interesting question. I believe that English is one of very few subjects where students have the opportunity to talk about their needs, ambitions, joy and problems, and in my experience, they do so quite openly, unless they are somehow inhibited – by the teacher’s personality, their linguistic competence or their own (introverted) personality. But this is a complex issue which I’ll leave up to experts……


  3. lizzieserene says:

    Dear Hana,
    I've been holding this post on my desktop for a chance to leave a comment. I really like how you approached the generalizations challenge. I have never tried this before, but the way you articulated your ideas and beliefs gives me hope that I can manage it too.

    This is what I understand that you are saying and please correct me if I misinterpret:

    1. Everyone has plans and expectations. Sometimes they clash and problems occur. We need to be prepared for that.
    (I can learn from this, too!)
    2. Be clear in expectations and ask for clarity (and be willing to accept the response).
    3. Hiding feelings or thoughts can inhibit communication.
    (On both sides, I think. Great point!)
    4. “Allowing” misunderstanding can affect class atmosphere.
    (Do you mean for that day or for a longer period of time? And “allowing” indicates to me that misunderstanding is known but not corrected? I'm a little confused.)
    5. You are there to foster learning and not to let your feelings distract the students.
    (I think you're being a little hard on yourself in this part, blaming your feelings for possibly hindering students' learning. Your feelings are important and I think you have a right to them. One thing that helps me sometimes is to try and separate my feelings from my responses or reactions (which are strategies for meeting my needs and not always effective).)

    What you said about expectations and communication really struck me because this is something that I struggle with – being clear and getting clarity.

    Thank you as always for sharing these pieces of yourself and your classroom through this challenge. I am going to write my own post soon and I look forward to your comments on it.


  4. Zhenya says:

    Hana, thank you for your reply (in fact, reads like a new great post to me!)

    As you said, I do think a lot about reflecting and classroom dynamics, but reflecting together and sharing thoughts in a group is a different experience for me. Learning!
    The first thing I am learning is clarity in writing. Zhenya: “I am wondering how much right I have as a reader to agree or disagree with the conclusions you come up with”. Hana: 'To me this sentence implies that there is something you see differently but you don’t want to interfere too much'. – Zhenya: I think it was more related to the process of reflection and to the fact that the same description and analysis might lead to different beliefs stated, and it is not about agreeing or not. After all, it is your cycle.
    I am totally with you on your number 2: your blog title summarizes it beautifully (How I see it now)

    As for number 3, I think this was a confusing part in the comment. Yes, I meant that clarity in communication in L2 might be easier for Ss (or any language learners) and that this awareness might help in creating atmosphere and rapport with the group. You said: 'I believe that English is one of very few subjects where students have the opportunity to talk about their needs, ambitions, joy and problems, and in my experience, they do so quite openly, unless they are somehow inhibited…' – agree completely, and it is true for the students here in Ukraine, I think, and perhaps less true for those in Korea (well, that's why there is no 'right' or 'wrong' at this stage of the ELC?)

    I have looked at my comment, and then at Anne's comment – well, yes, they are long, but really really cool! Thank you for deepening the discussion!


  5. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Anne,
    You know what I love about our RP communication? That I feel our comments are not of the ‚return the favor‘ or ‚trying to be polite and respond‘ kind. I mean the sort when you want to show you’ve been there, read the post, liked it and that’s why you’re dropping a line. I’m not saying there’s something wrong about this kind of response. But your comments really make me think. You‘re giving me a hard time and you challenge me each time you respond.
    Let me clarify the following point you mention in your comment: Anne: “Allowing” misunderstanding can affect class atmosphere…. do you mean for that day or for a longer period of time?” Hana: I think it depends; if you don’t get things straight and ignore misunderstandings, even though you are aware of them, then yes, this can affect the relationship in general. I don’t think that a single misunderstanding can be fatal, though. Just an example of something that happened earlier today: A accused B of something, but B proved immediately that A was wrong. A didn’t apologize at all; on the contrary, she accused B of something else, something totally unrelated to the previous matter, and she left. This didn’t happen in the classroom but it happened to a colleague at work. Everybody knows that A does it and we’ve already got used to it. You can imagine what we all think of A……. I hope A is never going to read this!
    Anyway, I agree with you that clarity is vital in communication. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I fail to be clear…. Then it’s good to have friends like you, who ask for clarification and thus help my arguments sound more convincing and plausible. In other words, friends are those who don’t let us look like idiots when we incidentally make a mistake. Thanks.


  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for making things as clear as crystal 🙂 I just want you to know that the fact that I misinterpret some part of your comment doesn't mean that your comment is confusing. I think it's because, as you imply, it all depends on the context and the environment.
    I agree with you (and Anne) that we must try to be as clear as possible when expressing our opinions. Virtual communication is a great lesson for me: I simply have to write in a way not to incidentally offend somebody because it’s difficult to fix things online. Generalizing, metaphors, and hyperboles make peoples’ remarks confusing. A good writer (speaker) chooses every word carefully, someone once told me….. Very true, isn’t it?


  7. lizzieserene says:

    Dear Hana,
    I'm in complete agreement about our communication. I think the purpose of the RP challenge is to create a community where we really help each other. My goal of my comments is to be helpful as I find your comments helpful, thoughtful and thought-provoking. I'm still learning to communicate in this way and thank you for your patience with me.

    Thank you also for clarifying what you mean by allowing misunderstanding. Your example helped me to see where you are coming from and I see that I was thinking too narrowly. I have seen or been in situations that have allowed misunderstandings and I know what you mean that they can poison the atmosphere. My thoughts seem to always be coming back to communication today.

    Thank you, friend. I enjoy reflecting with you.


  8. Hi Hana, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I think you have come come to some good generalisations. I think I get what you mean when you say “allowing misunderstandings” and I have found some of my classes have gone a little sour when I have allowed misunderstandings. Sometimes, it's just something simple that if I had taken the time, I could have put straight and made sure that everyone understood, but by not doing it, the class suffered as a result.

    I also like what you say in your response to Anne above about the importance of clarity in communication. It can sometimes be difficult to articulate exactly what you mean, and you can reformulate and rewrite to your heart's content but still not get it right. Only for someone to come along, read what you have written and then either ask a question that helps you clarify or does so for you. And that is what is great about having the opportunity to reflect in a community.

    I think perhaps the other thing I can take from this post is that it appears to be relevant a lot to life and a lot of what you say has gotten me to stop and think about how important it is to do outside of the classroom as well as in. With students, colleagues, friends, family. You mention expectations for example, and then tie it in with the need to communicate those expectations clearly. A skill that I have yet to master.

    Thank you


  9. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment, David. I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the expression “gone a little sour” when describing classroom atmosphere. That's exactly how I feel when there is some kind of misunderstanding – in class or elsewhere. The sour taste lingers for a while – and it's almost like when you incidentally drink some milk that's gone off.
    Like you, I sometimes find it difficult to articulate exactly what I mean, no matter how hard I try. But even when I think I’ve articulated my ideas succinctly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be understood; then someone reads my words and interprets them in a slightly different way because their schemata and background knowledge are not identical with mine. So yes, the communication within our RPPLN is very important and helps us learn about each other’s worlds.
    I agree that most of the conclusions and revelations we come to while reflecting on our teaching are applicable in everyday life. Expectations can be really tricky when it comes to one’s family, especially children. I may sound a little radical but I prefer not to have any great expectations because I know that the sense of disappointment I’d feel if my expectations didn’t come true may ruin my relationship with the kids. And it’s the same in the classroom. So let’s hope but don’t expect too much……


  10. Hello Hana,

    Your industriousness is remarkable. I wish I could keep up with everything you write because you write with such heart and honesty.

    I think what you said to Anne in your comment hits the nail on the head RE reflective practice and its uses. Creating a truly deep, instructive dialogue that enriches everyone is what reflective practice meetings are all about.

    With a LARGE thanks to the likes of you and Anne and everyone else the learning, the growth, the atmosphere we find in RP meetings has been transferred online.

    On a further note, I really relate to what you share because I can tell how deeply you care and how it affects you when you perceive failure on your part. I struggle mightily with the weight of my own expectations and Im sure that they affect my classroom, probably for the worse more often than the better!

    I've recently really latched onto the idea of nonviolent communication and mindfulness. Thanks largely to Josette's mentoring.

    I've been struck by the need to empathize and be compassionate with ourselves before we can move forward and do so with others. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.



  11. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment, John.
    Regarding the need to empathize and be compassionate with ourselves before we can move forward and do so with others……. I can't disagree. Recently I've heard people say that we should allow ourselves to feel any emotion provided it makes us happy. Well, I'd change it a little: we should allow ourselves to feel any emotion provided it makes us AND other people happy. But yes, we must start with ourselves. I observe that some people don’t like the positive/negative dichotomy related to emotions. I believe there are emotions which hurt us (and others), and those which don’t. This brings me to an obvious conclusion: I doubt we want to feel emotions which hurt. So we should think twice before we allow ourselves to feel ANY emotion. To be able to deal with ‘negative’ emotions, I think we need to embrace them, observe, scrutinize, … simply get to know the devil to be finally able to understand and accept.
    Well, I hope this is not the ending but just a beginning. I’m looking forward to our future exchanges.


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