It is always mixed feelings when you get to the end of an academic semester. Happy to not have to plan, prepare, teach and mark for a while. Pleased for the students who have done well and disappointed for those who did not quite achieve. We have had a couple of weeks to put this semester to bed, store all the records and moderate assessments. It is also a good time to look back on the semester and decide on how things could be improved for next year. On a personal note, I’ve spent some time reflecting on my own teaching and considering where I need to make modifications to give my learners the best possible chance. In the world of cycling there is a well-known strategy of making small changes to improve performance, which is known as marginal gains. The idea is that by improving by one percent in lots of different areas, you can improve your overall performance considerably. For next year, I am hoping for improvement in the following five areas.
I want to try and be more systematic in the way I get learners to practise new language. I don’t think I am always as demanding as I could be, nor do I monitor closely enough what is going on during practice phases. I am conscious that I need to give them space, but also that they are reliant on me for correction and making sure the bar is set as high as possible in terms of accuracy. I also need to make sure that activities are sufficiently challenging and engaging for all of the class, from those who struggle right up to those who will be on top of things.
All of our courses have a core textbook and I want to make sure that I use it as usefully as possible. This will involve deciding which parts are best done outside class and which ones really require and benefit from a teacher. It will also mean monitoring the content carefully and only covering language points and skills which are going to help our students meet the learning outcomes which the institution has set. It will also mean adapting the exercise types provided by the publisher to better suit our learners’ needs and prepare them for assessment events.
Our semesters are 18 weeks long and for each of the four skills there will be three formal assessments. Beyond that, I need to make sure that I gather more evidence of their performance on a regular basis. This will be by using applications like Flipgrid (www.flipgrid.com) and Padlet (www.padlet.com), where students can upload audio, video and texts for me to give feedback on. I also want to encourage far more listening and reading for pleasure because I am convinced that both these activities have an extremely important impact on language development. For this to be successful, there will need to be careful monitoring and support in the first few weeks so that the class see the benefits for themselves.
I have often argued about the importance of pronunciation, but at a recent moderation meeting, I showed videos of some of my students doing oral presentations and was quite surprised by the level of their pronunciation. Because I had taught them over a period of five months, I think I had become slightly immune to their pronunciation requirements. It is not enough for the teacher to understand them, they have to be intelligible to the outside world. All those elements of continuous speech such as rhythm, pausing, linking, intonation and stress are going to be illustrated and practised far more next semester. I owe it to my students to get them as ready as possible for communicating with others and that starts in the first class of the first week.
Code of practice
I mentioned in my editorial this issue that I have been concerned with certain behaviour in my classes and I plan to improve things by getting the class to discuss, write up and promise to stick to a code of practice. It will cover punctuality, self-study and participation among other things, and I hope that it will create as positive a learning environment as possible.
So here’s to a good break followed by a relaunch of my teaching with those five areas improved. If I get one percent in each of them, it will add up to a five percent improvement. That would definitely be worthwhile and, the thing is, it is all within the realms of possibility if I keep monitoring what I do and how my students react.
In his career Robert McLarty has taught and managed in Paris and Oxford as well as writing for and managing the Business English and ESP publishing for Oxford University Press. He has been editor of Modern English Teacher for five years and currently teaches and trains at Wintec in Hamilton, New Zealand. He has recently co-authored ETpedia Management.