Each of us develops our own theory of teaching and learning, consciously or not.  It’s based on our own experiences as students, our training, the influence of our peers, our teaching context, and our teaching experiences.  At our next Reflective Practice Group gathering, we’ll explore our beliefs about teaching and learning, and look at some of the widely-promulgated lists of DO’s and DON’Ts.

Before you come, please think about your personal philosophy of teaching:  What makes you cringe when you see a teacher doing it?  What makes you sad when a student talks about their previous learning experiences?  What do you think about these and other questions:

  • the teacher using the students’ L1 (first language)
  • students using their L1
  • correcting students’ errors
  • assigning homework
  • where the teacher stands (or do you sit or squat?)
  • the challenge level of reading material
  • student interaction
  • teacher authority
  • learner autonomy
  • always….
  • never….

Please join our Reflective Practice Group for ESL practitioners.  All are welcome: teachers, aides, pre-service teachers…

Date:            Sunday, March 5th

6:30pm         Refreshments & Social time (Bring something small to share)

7-9 pm          Reflective Workshop

Where:         Canal Alliance, 91 Larkspur Street, San Rafael (Upstairs in Bldg. 86)


Sign up here to drive or ride in a car pool.     Parking is challenging; please contact me for parking information and a parking pass:


Teachers from around the San Francisco Bay Area, participants in our 2-year old Reflective Practice Group, complete the thought  “Reflecting in a Community of Practice …..”,  our Holiday Greeting to other reflective practice groups and teachers around the world, and especially to teachers in Dnipro, Ukraine, who’ve just begun meeting as a new RPG, guided by Zhenya Polosatova .  And I want to express my personal gratitude to Zhenya, and to Josette LeBlanc and  Michael Griffin in Korea; without them we might not have launched the SF Bay Area RPG, and even if we had, I’m sure we might have run out of ideas!  Instead, we have a solid community of practicing “reflectors”, always eager to come together and share, which enriches our personal and professional lives.  THANK YOU ALL!

Reflecting in a Community of Practice…






There are many types of assessment.  At our October 30th gathering, we’ll focus mainly on the assessment measures we can implement — during a course, and during a class — to help us measure students’ learning and realign the focus of our teaching, and to help students become aware of their progress, strengths, and areas that need more attention.

Bring your questions and also examples of what works or doesn’t work well for you.  Together, we’ll explore what kinds of assessment work in our own teaching contexts.

Please join our Reflective Practice Group for ESL practitioners.  All are welcome: teachers, aides, pre-service teachers…

Date:             Sunday, October 30th

Time:            6:30pm         Snacks & Social time (Bring something small to share)

7-9 pm          Reflective Workshop

Where:          Canal Alliance, 91 Larkspur Street, San Rafael (Upstairs in Bldg. 86)


Sign up here to carpool  Parking is challenging; contact me for parking information and a parking pass.

The CATESOL Bay Area Chapter invites you to a  Fall Social on Saturday, October 15th, from 1:00  – 3:00 pm. 

The event will be an opportunity to get acquainted with other members, meet the local chapter board, and discuss your interests and goals for the year.

WHEN:              Saturday, October 15th, 2016, 1:00-3:00pm

WHERE:           Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center,660 Lombard St.  San Francisco


Everyone is invited (you don’t have to be a member).  Please email with any questions about the event.

We hope to see you there!

The Bay Area Chapter of CATESOL maintains a list of upcoming TESOL events in the Bay Area:  Go to and click on the EVENTS tab.

Do you have an issue, a question, a persistent struggle with your students, motivation, homework, classroom management … or something else in your teaching practice?  Bring your personal puzzle to the next Reflective Practice gathering for TESOL practitioners in the SF Bay Area – Sunday, April 24th

We will use the Reflective (Experiential Learning) Cycle format to support one another in analyzing our puzzles.  Come reflect, generate fresh ideas, and learn together in our professional community of practice.

Everyone in the ESL field is welcome!

Please RSVP: (415)717-3568

6:30-7 Social & snacks (bring something small to share)

7-9 Workshop

Canal Alliance, 91 Larkspur Street, San Rafael (Upstairs in Bldg. 86)

Parking is challenging. Contact me for directions to parking, or better: sign up to carpool:

Everyone who came to last Sunday’s meeting about teaching multi-level classes seemed genuinely eager and hopeful about getting some practical ideas to address this challenging reality!  And by the end of the evening, we all came away with lots of new, concrete ideas to implement immediately!

That is one of the magical aspects of reflecting in community, as we do at our monthly RPG meetings:  It’s like a stone soup:  each individual may feel they have very little to offer:  unanswered questions, needs and frustrations.  But as we share and reflect together, it turns out that the rich variety of experiences and wisdom contributed by each person yields a rich, varied, complex soup that none of us could have cooked up alone.

stone soup

The experience of reflecting in this way can’t be replaced or simulated by reading about the topic we reflected on.  That would be about as satisfying as reading a restaurant review:  you had to be there in person to enjoy the nuanced fragrances and complex flavors of the soup as we stirred and simmered and tasted and seasoned and tasted again…

So I hope you’ll be able to join us for the next RPG meeting!



At our next Reflective Practice Group gathering we will have two special guest facilitators and a panel of speakers:


Sunday, March 20th      ***       6:30-9:00 pm

  • In the first half of the evening, we will explore unconscious assumptions and judgments we may have about immigrants that can get in the way of seeing who our students really are, hindering our effectiveness as their teachers. This workshop will be facilitated by Melisandra Leonardos, a specialist in education diversity,  SIT-TESOL alumna, Canal Alliance teacher, and RPG member, based on her experiences with theUNtraining.
  • In the second half of the evening, there will be a panel discussion with individuals who grew up in the East San Rafael community and have lived the experience of our students, but who also have been on “the other side” and get along in the world that many teachers inhabit. The panel discussion will be moderated by Martin Steinman, immigrant rights activist and ESL Manager at the Canal Alliance.

Our RPG meetings are free, and open to anyone who is interested.  Bring a colleague! We meet at the Canal Alliance, 91 Larkspur Street, in San Rafael, CA.  (Upstairs in the “86 Building” across the parking lot from the main offices.)  I hope to see you on March 20th!  (Please RSVP)




2016-01-03 20.44.08

Hello Reflective Teachers!

We were asked to combine the Canal Alliance’s Spring Orientation training session with our RPG meeting next Sunday evening (Jan 10th).

So there will be two changes:

1. We’ll begin and end earlier:

6-6:30 Social/Snacks

6:30-7:30 Workshop

2. The topic has been changed to the following:

“Backwards Planning” a Communicative Speaking Lesson from a Textbook

Our textbooks are designed for a generic, hypothetical student. But our students are real people!  At our January 10th RPG meeting, we will explore “backwards planning” of a communicative speaking lesson, tailored to our students’ knowledge and needs, based on our textbooks, with an interactive speaking task as the final objective.  The workshop will begin with a short demo lesson. Then, in small groups of teachers who teach the same level, we will use the same approach to plan a lesson, adapting what’s in the textbook. This session is relevant for classroom aides, as well.

We will return to the original topic (Multi-Level Classes, Early Finishers & Grouping Strategies) at our February 7th meeting.

Please RSVP!  415-717-3568

Location:  Canal Alliance, 91 Larkspur Street, San Rafael (Upstairs in Bldg. 86)

Email to request parking info, or sign up to carpool:


Some classes are officially “multi-level,” but most teachers agree that every class is a multi-level class.

How do you address students’ individual needs?  How do you support the lower-level students while continuing to challenge the early finishers? How does classroom set-up fit in to your strategy? How do you use pair- and group-work?

Bring ideas and questions to reflect together with peers.  And to get your juices flowing, take a look at this post by my colleague Zhenya in Ukraine, about Early Finishers.

Everyone is welcome.

Please RSVP: (415)717-3568

Sunday, Jan 10     This topic has been rescheduled for February 7, 2016

6:30-7 Social & snacks (bring something small to share)

7-9       Workshop

Canal Alliance, 91 Larkspur Street, San Rafael (Upstairs in Bldg. 86)

Parking Info (attached) or sign up to carpool:

I hope to see you there.  And if you can’t come, stay tuned for a follow-up post about what we did and discovered.


If we can identify how experienced teachers plan lessons, maybe newer teachers can short cut the thousands of hours it usually takes to become an efficient, effective lesson planner.

Our Reflective Practice Group met recently to reflect together on Lesson Planning Time:  How can we make it shorter, more efficient, and productive? 

Here are some of the things teachers wrote to me before we met:

“Boy oh boy do I need this.  Teaching advanced ESL and feel like I’m spending as much time prepping as teaching.”

“This is one of my BIGgest issues right now – I’m spending so much time on lesson planning and not enough time restingJ

“Planning has been agony lately (this is NOT an exaggeration)!” 

I am finding these days as I am new to ESL I am spending more time planning (especially making things look pretty) than ever before.”

When we scheduled this topic, I searched the blogosphere and asked many experienced teachers what advice they could give for reducing the time and “agony” of lesson planning. There was pretty much unanimous agreement that easier lesson planning just evolves with thousands of hours of experience.  But (I thought) experienced teachers are doing something different when they plan lessons, different from what newer teachers do. So let’s see if we can identify some of those differences and try them out.


We began with an exercise I called “Are we having fun yet?” to get in touch with our emotions regarding planning lessons.  We took 60 seconds to write down a single word to describe how we feel when…(see below)…and then we shared our responses (in italics):

How do you feel ….

… when you hear the words “Lesson Planning”?

“Fear, Anticipation, Paid? Fear, Stress, Overwhelm, Work, Sinking feeling, Duty”

…right before you start planning a lesson?

“Ready/unready, How long is this going to take? Settle in, Fearful & hopeful, Excited, Motivated, Time for a cup of tea, Blank, Dread”

…while you’re planning?

“Fun, Frustration, Hopeful, Creative”

…once you’ve finished planning?

“Relieved, Glad I have a plan, Relieved, Hopeful, Happy, Relieved, Excellent, Relieved”

…right before class starts?

“Excited, Is this going to work? Calm, Ready, Hopeful, Nervous, Excited, Thoughtful, Lonely”

…half-way through the class?

“Not enough/ too much material, Doubtful, Thrilled, Flexible, Concentrated, Fine, Floating”

…immediately after students leave the room?

“Satisfied if it worked, or what a mess!  Should have/could have, Relaxed, Encouraged or discouraged, Celebrating”


Next, we mingled and discussed posted quotations on the topic, including:

The most pro-active teachers don’t restrict their planning to an hour with their head in the teachers’ book, but seek inspiration everywhere around them. After all, some of the best ideas for lessons can come to us at the strangest times and places.  (Rose Aylett)

 First of all get rid of the idea that every lesson has to be cool.  If you try to make every lesson really exciting for them you are going to kill yourself.  (Harry) 

Planning should set teachers free in the classroom, although few teachers in training would describe themselves as liberated by the traditional format of the formal lesson plan.  In reality, this kind of plan can become a strait-jacket…to the extent that the lesson plan is viewed as a final product, rather than a process.  (Rose Aylett)

The map is not the territory. (Scott Thornbury)

I sometimes use lesson planning to work on my challenges. For example, an observer told me my instructions were too long and confusing.  For a while after that, when planning, I would think of the words/examples I would use to give instructions. (Cecilia Lemos)

It is predominantly during unplanned sequences that we can see learners employ initiative and use language creatively, and for that reason it might be suggested that less or no prior planning should be done.  (Leo van Lier)

Great lessons don’t just happen; they are made to happen – usually as a result of thousands and thousands of hours of practice. (Scott Thornbury)

I don’t think ‘preflection’ is a word, but if it isn’t, it should be….”serious and careful thought about an event before it occurs.”  It takes the focus away from writing things down in a structured way, and places more importance on the actual thought processes involved.  (Steve Brown)

(Links to the full articles are here, here, here, here and here.)

We also discussed a reflective process I developed to analyze one’s lesson planning practice in terms of how it relates to the actual lesson that is based on it.   (You can read about it here.)


Having “activated schema,” we then delved into our own personal lesson planning experiences.  In groups of three, we discussed the following topics.  There was time after each topic for participants to make notes about challenges in their current practice, and ideas they might like to try.

  1. ELAPSED TIME How much time do you usually spend on planning a lesson?  Include thinking time, and materials preparation time.  What do you do first, second, third…..?
  2. STRUCTURE & SEQUENCING Do you follow a textbook? If you choose, omit, adapt or add to what’s in the textbook, how do you make those decisions, and why? Do you use a teaching framework* while planning? Why or why not?  How do you decide what comes first in the lesson, what comes next, what you end with? (sequencing)
  3. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Do you set a learning objective? At what point in the planning process do you set it?  Do you use coverage objectives** or performance*** objectives? How does the learning objective affect your planning process?  Do you/students usually achieve the objective?
  4. INTUITION & REFLECTION Is there a “little voice in your head” commenting while you are planning? What does it say?  Do you reflect on the lesson plan’s relevance and utility after you’ve taught the lesson?  Do you experience “ah-hah!” insights about the lesson plan?
  5. FORM & FUNCTION What does your final lesson plan look like? (typed, hand-written, cryptic notes/full sentences, cocktail napkin, all in your head, number of pages, categories of information included). How do you “use” the lesson plan during class? Do you refer to it? What would make your lesson plan more useful while teaching?
  6. MATERIALS Do you create/search for/use materials above and beyond what comes with the textbook? Why or why not?  Do the additional materials help students learn?  Do they move students towards achieving learning objectives?

*Teaching Frameworks: Examples: PPU (Presentation/Practice/Use), PPP (Present/Practice/Produce), ECRIF (Encounter/Clarify/Remember/Internalize/Fluently Use),  PDP (Pre/During/Post),  PWP (Prepare/Write/Publish)

**Coverage Objectives: Example: By the end of the lesson, students will have been exposed to 12 daily activity vocabulary expressions, and the present simple in first and second person.

***Performance Objectives: Example: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to ask and answer the question “What do you do every day?” using the present simple tense.


Having explored our own and others’ lesson planning practices, we moved on to making personal action plans.  Each participant considered the following questions:

  •       What do you want to STOP doing?
  •       What do you want to START doing?
  •       What are YOU doing that your STUDENTS could be doing?
  •       How can you shift your focus from QUANTITY to QUALITY?

Then, we each drafted an Action Plan, addressing these prompts:

  1.     1.  Set a specific, achievable goal
  2.     2.  Describe your current practice on this point
  3.     3.  Describe what you’d like your practice to be
  4.     4.  What obstacles do you face?
  5.     5.  What resources do you need, and how can you get them?
  6.     6.  What evidence will show how you’re progressing?

Afterwards, we shared our action plans, and resolved to work on them and report our progress at the next meeting.  Meanwhile (a week and a half later) some of the teachers have sent me updates on:

I put into practice two key takeaways as I prepared last week’s lesson:  breaking the 2-hour block into time chunks, and writing shorter, less dense plans.  Both worked well. My time spent was reduced, and I was able to recall what and how I planned to teach without the highly detailed notes, improving eye contact and rapid assessment.… this gave me immediate help — not only in time planning but, equally important, in giving me the confidence to be less scripted. 

My action plan was focused on reducing lesson planning time by reducing the time I waste procrastinating. My next strategy is to do the 10 minute timing and recording activity task. (You can read about that technique here.)

My change is how I am building goals into my lesson plan now. I am listing the goal(s) that we want to achieve in the lesson right on the plan and also what, if any, way that I can assess on the spot if they are reaching it. I think this will help keep me more focused on the skill we are trying to impart on the S’s and the ways to test it. I am finding it also focuses me on preparing the modeling and exercise with the goal clearly in mind too.

Lesson planning, while not completely shortened, is more directed and less painful!  Huzzah!  My action plan was to plan backwards and identify the goal and the behavioral outcomes for each lesson.  Then, I borrowed your idea of segments, and allotted myself seven.  Understanding that I wanted to structure the lessons using Presentation, Practice and Production while varying the modalities (ie, reading, writing, hearing, speaking), I’m sketching out the lesson and integrating the parts.  Recognizing that much of my time has been spent fiddling or reviewing resources, I’m able now to catch myself and redirect myself to the task at hand.  I’ve applied the Action Plan to subsequent lessons, and, as I mentioned, things are improving, slowly but surely.  It has been helpful to review the lesson afterwards and see what material was either not used or used in a different way and why that happened.

Our next meeting will be Sunday, January 10, 2016, in San Rafael, California. The topic will be:  Multilevel Classes & Grouping Strategies.

If you are in the Bay Area, you are welcome to join us!

For more information, contact Linda-Marie Koza.