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A Letter to My Younger Self

Young woman thinking as she writesMeghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. In this piece she writes a letter to herself about things she wished she knew when she first started teaching.

Dear Younger Self,

As you have probably realised by now, teaching is hard work. On top of a full teaching load you have to deal with homework, exams, misbehaving students, staff meetings and (gasp!) students’ parents. You are experiencing a lot of uncertainty and ups and downs, sometimes even on an hourly basis. You may feel that you don’t have enough time to plan the spectacular lessons you dreamt of when you were training to become a teacher. I remember what it feels like to be a new teacher, so I would like to offer you some simple advice that can help you deal with some of the challenges you are currently facing.

Choice: First of all, don’t be afraid to give your students choices about their learning. As a teacher, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of being the decision-maker, judge and jury in the classroom, but allowing choice is an important part of helping students become autonomous learners. By having your students make some decisions in the classroom, you can also increase their involvement and enjoyment of your lessons. Start with something simple, such as allowing students to choose which questions from an exercise that they would like to answer. You might also consider asking them how they would like to carry out an activity – individually, in pairs or in groups? Homework and projects are other areas where choice is a possibility. If you want them to get more practice with past simple at home, give them some options and take a whole class vote, for example:

  1. Write a short composition about your last holiday.
  2. Record yourself talking about what you did last weekend.
  3. Prepare a ‘past simple’ quiz for your classmates.

This allows you to cater to different learning styles while encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. For learners who are not accustomed to being given choice in the classroom, this new responsibility may come as a shock to them and they may struggle to come up with ideas or even try to ‘cheat’ the system. But with a bit of persistence and optimism on your part, you will be amazed at the wonderful ideas your students can come up with.

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Classroom dynamics in a changing world

Students and teacher at the boardFreelance teacher trainer and materials writer, Martyn Clarke, explores the difficulties in finding a neat solution to classroom dynamics, given the changing nature of classrooms and the world as a whole.

If you’re looking for a series of articles listing ‘How To Achieve Better Classroom Dynamics’, then stop reading. I have no idea what the perfect classroom looks like. In fact, my opinion on what makes a good class changes frequently. My views on classroom dynamics are, themselves, dynamic.

This is because it’s a complex world. What works in one context, might not work in another. What is successful at one time, may well fail the next. I imagine we’ve all come across this in our careers.

The key question in looking at classroom dynamics is how do we respond to this?

It seems to me there are three basic approaches we could adopt:

1. Methodology is king

We could decide that theories of language learning are universally applicable to all classrooms. There are good and bad classroom dynamics. We can observe behaviour, judge it according to one set of criteria, and ‘improve’ it accordingly. When things don’t work, it’s because students don’t understanding or lack the ability to engage with the approach. I’m the first to admit that this is highly seductive. The certainty of belief provides a sense of security in this uncertain world.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. Every classroom is made up of unique individuals, each bringing their own expectations, values, and attitudes, to create a one-off community. This community is also influenced by the culture of the society it belongs to, and the institution of which it is a part. It is itself constantly evolving, as do its individual members. It really is quite a messy place when you come to think about it, so one-size-fits-all answers won’t, in fact, fit.

Should we, therefore, leave theory outside the classroom door?

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