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Archive for the category “Course Design”

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!


Online or Face-to-Face? Questions in Course Design

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @AnaMariaMenezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/"

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @AnaMariaMenezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”


This was the last week of Blended Learning course I started 6 weeks ago. The facilitators of this course did a fantastic job at creating different ways for participants to stay engaged throughout the course, reminding us that we could choose to join in as little or as much as we wanted. I listened to their weekly webinars, read the corresponding chapters, and even though I could not meet my weekly blogging goal, I’d like to share some thoughts that resonated with me.

These past three weeks, BlendKit14 addressed issues related to assessment in a blended learning environment, content and assignments, and quality assurance. It was interesting for me to note that most of the considerations in curriculum design for a blended course dealt with aspects we also take into account in a F2F (face to face) environment. And I suppose that makes sense. Regardless of whether we are planning a course to take place in a super high tech classroom, one with minimal resources and no classroom, or fully online, designing a course requires us to think about student needs, objectives, content, assignments, and the way it can all come together. However, what stands out to me as a difference between planning to teach a blended course and preparing for a F2F course is that designing a blended course has a built in need to make decisions about which type of activities students will benefit the most from. Perhaps one could argue that F2F classes are no different in this regard, but when I was thinking of how I would teach my current composition class if it were a blended course, I often wondered “which lessons would work better if we have a F2F class?” or “could students learn how to do X or Y by working online with other students?”. In short, because a blended course gives the option of asynchronous work and the use of many more resources online, there’s also the need for us to go deeper into the reasons why we choose any particular type of activity e.g., conducting a group discussion in the classroom vs on an online forum, reading at home vs. engaging in a reading activity in class. Even though I will not teach a blended course next fall, I will continue to have access to a LMS (Moodle) and since I do tend to integrate technology quite often in the classroom, I’ll be revising my course objectives to see if any of them could be better met by working on them asynchronously.

When thinking about blended content and assignments (week 4) #BlendKit14 started with a section titled “questions to ponder”, and again, I find all of these questions relevant and valuable to my F2F teaching context.

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?

  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?

  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?

  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

Learning about how to design a blended or hybrid course has taught me that there are lots of important questions we need to ask ourselves when thinking about the mode in which our courses take place. Sounds a bit obvious to state, but I think questioning even those teaching decisions which we think are so clear could make a big difference when it comes to student participation and learning. Each week during the BlendKit14 course I got to hear about the experiences of two faculty members teaching different courses and if something stood out from  what they shared, it was that teaching the same content using new tools will involve lots of reflecting about what we are doing, how the students respond to it, and which changes need to take place. I know many teachers who strive to do this in their F2F classes already, but as more and more schools move towards integrating blended courses, we will need to start taking a deeper look into why and how we integrate web 2.0 tools into our courses.

So, in the spirit of questioning our current practices and use of technology in teaching, I’d like to ask the following question:

Which learning objectives in your current class could be met by conducting asynchronous online activities? which ones require a F2F class, and why?

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