TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Embracing Simplicity and Growth

Winter quarter begins in a couple of days, and I currently find myself reviewing notes I took at the end of Fall quarter. Each time the quarter begins, I set specific personal teaching goals and review my most recent teaching experiences. Last year, my goal was to be more organized with all the paperwork and materials I used and developed. Last quarter, my goal was to take less time to grade and give feedback. I’d be lying if I said I’ve accomplished all of my goals without any hiccups along the way, but I’ve learned that the best way to move forward is to do a little each day. Big changes don’t just happen overnight, but having these personal goals gives me hope that eventually my current challenges will all become easier to deal with.

The biggest lesson I learned last quarter was to focus on what I can do and to be flexible about making curricular changes as the quarter moved along. Fall quarter was challenging because not only did I implement an English composition course I designed over the summer, but I also started teaching at two colleges and had two more classes in addition to the writing course. A few weeks into the term, I found myself questioning everything I had planned for my classes and wondering how my students felt about the class content, the activities we were doing in class, and their assignments. I wanted to get their feedback before it was too late to change the way the course was carrying on.

This is where the big aha! moment took place. Based on an activity to gather student feedback I once read on Mike Griffin’s excellent (and entertaining) blog, I asked students to tell me anything related to the course that they wished stopped, kept happening, or wanted to see happen. I got student feedback on colorful papers: green for “keep doing”, yellow for “consider stopping”, and red for “stop doing”.

Reading through my students’ incredibly useful feedback, I confirmed many of my own observations and made immediate changes to the program. I also realized that sometimes I was being too hard on myself. The ego plays dirty tricks like that. Not all learning is about us, and my students were enjoying the subjects and learning in spite of my worries.

The most obvious of all student feedback came through comments telling me to slow down. To try to cover less and manage time better. And I’ll admit it. I struggled teaching 50-minute class periods after coming from having the same group of students for almost 4 hours every day. My takeaway? Less is more. I started planning fewer exercises and class activities but allowing students more time to delve deeper into their class work. This quarter, I plan to focus on what is truly essential in terms of learning. There always seems to be too many objectives to cover with the time we get in Intensive English programs, but “covering” language points and skills is not the kind of teaching that conduces to learning. Having a chance to explore, ask questions, and revisit language does promote learning.

While the perfectionist in me also constantly needs to be reminded to be kinder and forgive myself for making mistakes, I know that growth comes from being persistent, not beating yourself up, and revising what you’ve done. This time, as I finish planning the initial stages of my course, I am adding fewer assignments than I would normally incorporate. I will assume my students need more time and plan extension activities for class tasks instead of brand new tasks. I will continue to get their feedback as the course moves along, and I’ll make changes as needed.

Slowing down when there is so much to do is hard, but in the end, learning is more about having an opportunity to practice and less about “getting through” class content.

Wish me luck!

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4 thoughts on “Embracing Simplicity and Growth

  1. Good luck, Laura! 🙂

    I really like the activity you describe for gathering student feedback. Simple, yet has the potential to generate lots of useful info. I came across this one on Twitter recently http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/a-new-twist-on-end-of-semester-evaluations/ and thought I’d find a way to use it in my online course.

    On an entirely unrelated note, I also like your new blog theme. 🙂

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