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:

Monet weeping-willow-and-water-lily-pond-painting

Next RPG meeting: Sunday, October 11th.

Topic:           Reflecting-in-Action: Where and when do we learn to be effective teachers?

Usually, the answer is “in the classroom,” or “on the job.”  But what does that mean?  Does it happen in the classroom, the mechanical reinforcement of skills by repetition?  Or does it happen across the whole process of teaching: during planning, execution of the lesson, and reflecting afterwards?  What role does feedback play?  And whose feedback?  Students? Peers? Supervisors?  At what point in the process do we learn?

There are many models for teacher reflection.  We’ll explore the approach developed by Daniel Schön.[i]  Schön challenged teachers to reconsider the role of technical knowledge versus “artistry” in developing professional excellence. He distinguished “reflection-in-action” from “reflection-on-action.”  Reflection-in-action occurs in real-time, while we are teaching; it’s analogous to intuitive knowledge.  This type of reflective competence develops with time and experience.[ii]  Since our RPG group has both new teachers and very experienced teachers, this will be an opportunity for peer-teaching!

For this workshop, “bring” one thing that happened in a recent lesson that was different from what you expected; and which you responded to by changing your plan on the spot.  If you’re not teaching right now, think of such an incident that you observed.  It could be positive, negative, or just different. You don’t need to analyze it; we’ll do that together.

 Where & When:  We meet at 6:30pm for social/snacks. The workshop is 7-9pm.  Address:  93 Larkspur, San Rafael, upstairs in the “86 Building,” which is across the parking lot from the Canal Alliance main office.

Bring a snack or beverage to share.

Please carpool:  If you prefer to drive, please sign up here to let others know where you’re coming from.  There are usually people coming from San Francisco, northern Marin and Sonoma County, and the east bay.

RSVP: 415-717-3568

Everyone is Welcome!

[i] Schön, D. (The Reflective Practitioner:  How Professionals Think in Action (1984)  and Educating the Reflective Practitioner (1987))

[ii] Randall & Thornton, Advising and Supporting Teachers, (2001)

This is my first post, ever.  I wanted to participate in the RP Reading Club started by my colleague Zhenya Polosatova, which is how I came to read the article I’m about to comment on.  Another reflective colleague, Wilma Luth, has already posted about her response to the article.  How wonderful to see the many dimensions through others’ eyes! 

Here is my take on the same article: Teacher Training, Development, and Decision Making: A Model of Teaching and Related Strategies for Language Teacher Education, by Donald Freeman  TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1 (27-45)

In 1989, Donald Freeman observed that language teacher education programs were focused on transmission of knowledge about applied linguistics, language acquisition, and methodology. He bemoaned the lack of focus on becoming an effective teacher.  Sadly, twenty-six years later, most of the ESL/EFL teacher training programs in my sphere of awareness are still, as Freeman wrote, “overlooking the core – teaching itself.”

Freeman proposed a framework for language teacher education consisting of two strategies for evolving the individual teacher’s craft:  Training and Development. (Freeman used both of these terms in the context of educating preservice teachers.)  Training and Development, both essential, are two different modes of collaboration between the teacher-trainer and the teacher-in-preparation.

Training, in Freeman’s model, is the transmission of knowledge and skills.  Knowledge is the subject matter (English, or another language), knowledge of the students, the context, and so on.  Skills are such things as presenting material, giving instructions, correcting errors, etc.  Training, as a strategy, is initiated by the teacher-trainer and focuses on discrete knowledge and skills.  The teacher-trainer knows both the questions and the answers.   These components of Training are what was being taught when Freeman put forward his model, and they are still, as far as I can see, the essence of what is taught in most MA-TESOL programs as well as some TESOL certificate programs.  Based on Freeman’s description, I see the Training strategy being applied in a trainer-fronted classroom, with teachers-in-preparation as the students. 

It’s Freeman’s exposition of the partner strategy, Development, that interests me today.   His concept of Development hinges on Awareness and Attention: the capacity to recognize, monitor and engage in some aspect of what is happening in the classroom.  Awareness scans the classroom and allows the teacher to focus Attention on something specific.

In the Development strategy, the role of the teacher-trainer is to draw teachers’ Awareness towards some aspect of what is happening, to focus their Attention in order to help them begin to reflect critically on their classroom practice.   This is usually done by asking questions, such as What do you think was going on with that student who didn’t participate? or How do you think the student felt when X happened?  Unlike Training, Development is a dialogue initiated by the trainer in a classroom fronted by the teacher-in-training, with language learners as students.  In Development, the trainer is helping teachers expand Awareness of what they do, and the impact of their behavior in the classroom.  The trainer must recognize the issues, but the solutions are the teacher’s alone.  Freeman says this is the critical difference between Training and Development.   Wilma Luth, in her response to Freeman’s article, discusses the value of a “shift in awareness.”

What stands out for me is that Development, viewed as a partner strategy to Training, is where a teacher learns to be effective.  And clearly Development must take place in an actual classroom with real students.  But this incredibly important and obvious aspect of language teacher education is missing from most MA-TESOL programs and some TESOL certificate programs.  There may be a practicum or internship, but it’s often casually arranged, and the teacher-trainer isn’t present.  It may be just a few, or even just a single teaching session, observed by someone who isn’t necessarily part of the dialogue between the teacher-trainer and the teacher-in-development.  The observation culminates in a checklist of knowledge and skills demonstrated by the teacher (aspects of Training, not Development).  As Freeman says, “Practicums and internships are often seen as the panaceas that will provide the missing link between knowledge and implementation.”  But they serve little purpose if the trainer isn’t present in the classroom, and if there isn’t a sustained development dialogue.

I am grateful to be able to train teachers in contexts where the Development dialogue — raising the teachers’ Awareness of what happens in the classroom — is at the center of their education.  And I’m sad for the teachers who aren’t in such programs, who don’t get the Development half of their teacher training, and who, when they finish their degree or certificate, still don’t feel prepared to teach.