Saturday, 30 March 2013

What makes a lesson great?

This was the subject of an interesting #eltchat, which I summarisedback in January.  During that chat, reference was made to a webinar with the same title given by Anthony Gaughan.  I knew I had attended the said webinar and just yesterday I came across my notes, so I've decided to write them up.  What follows is a summary of Anthony's presentation.

A lesson should be built around five characteristics or elements which are primary to a GREAT lesson:
  • Group dynamic
  • Relevance to learners' lives and needs
  • Emergent language and ideas focus
  • Attentiveness
  • Thoughtfulness
Group dynamic
Some questions to ask ourselves:
  • Can dynamic be generated?
  • How do we promote rapport?
  • Are we blocking rapport?
  • Can (and should) teachers manage the group dynamic?
  • How well-prepared are teachers in various educational settings to work sensitively with the group dynamic?
Students have to be convinced that they are working towards mastering the language.  Telling them that something is relevant is not enough.  The activity has to be seen to be relevant.
A needs analysis is usually only done at the beginning of a course.  Inevitably, needs change over time, so a course becomes decreasingly relevant.  You can overcome this by exploiting learner journals.  In this way, it is easier for the teacher to keep pace with student needs and students also become more conscious of their own needs.  You can read Adam Beale's blog for more on learner diaries.
The lesson content has to have a recognisable profile, but it has to adaptable. It has to change and it has to clearly relate to the students' needs and interests.
Emergent language and ideas focus
Language develops over time and relates to the point of need.  Instant and constructive feedback is required at the moment the language emerges. Teachers should be language 'snipers' - marksmen!  They should hear the emergent language and pick up on it immediately.
As a teacher, when you hear something new, capture it and do something with it.  Ask yourself:
  • Have I heard this from this learner and this class before?
  • Is this highly relevant to the conversation?
  • Have others asked the speaker to clarify the meaning?
  • Was there a pause for thought?  Was it hesitantly delivered?
  • Was it used to get around some lack of lexis or grammar?
Attention is limited to a relatively short period of time, so it is important to use the lesson dynamic.  Be aware of getting, and then holding onto, your learners' attention.  Try pausing for three seconds after every instruction or chunk of language.  It helps the students to focus their attention.  It really works!!  It gives them processing time.
Consider the flock of birds/buckshot analogy.  If you want to gather birds rather than scatter them, don't use a shotgun, use food.  How do you know what kind of 'food' to use for your learners?  What will get their attention?  Gather data. Take notes.  Eavesdrop on their conversations.  Snoop.  Listen for language students want clarification on.  Listen and note the topics they talk about.
Play loud music and force students to talk over it.  Not only does this get their attention, it helps with their confidence and their voice projection.
How thoughtful are you towards yourself and towards your students in class? How thoughtful are your students towards each other in class?
Use silence - thinking pauses.  See Scott Thornbury's blogpost on this.

How compatible are busy classroom environments with true thoughtfulness?  Ask yourself:
  • How often during a lesson am I thoughtful about:
  1. how I am feeling?
  2. how the learners are feeling?
  3. how appropriate to the moment is what I've planned?
  • How can I calm (but not subdue!) the environment to allow for more thoughtfulness?
Allow white space in your lesson plan.  In other words, leave some unplanned time.  Gain focus in your lesson through interest, not time pressure.  

Take a 15-second vacation:  go to the window and focus on a tree or a bird, for example, for a full 15 seconds.  You'll be energised and so will the class.

Here's to lots of great lessons!

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